Fort Drum aviators use infrared equipment to rescue missing man
By GORDON BLOCK | Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. | Published: October 13, 2017
BLACK RIVER, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — A group of Fort Drum aviators are being praised for helping to locate an 85-year-old man who was missing near the post’s boundaries.
The crews, already in the air doing Army training, offered their assistance on Aug. 30 as a large number of local police, fire departments and volunteers were unable to locate the man, who has been diagnosed with dementia.
“They weren’t able to see him, and if had not been for the Black Hawk from Fort Drum, I believe this outcome would have been totally different,” said Black River Fire Chief Matt Carpenter.
Additional details of the Army response that night were provided in a press release issued by the post on Thursday.
“That night the mission was very unexpected,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Timothy Woznica, who piloted the Black Hawk helicopter that spotted the missing man. “Once we were assigned to assist, we had to switch focus from training to a real-world mission. We are extremely happy we could assist in locating the individual and getting him to safety.”
The fire department began its search at about 7 p.m., a few hours after the man began a normal walk, but had not returned.
Other agencies helping that night included Black River Ambulance Squad, Black River Police Department, state police, and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office.
A LifeNet helicopter initially came to the scene, but left after issues with its radios made its crew unable to communicate with the ground.
At that point, 1st Lt. Austin Welch, a pilot on post that was volunteering with the Black River Ambulance, reached out to an Apache helicopter crew that was already taking part in a training mission with the aircraft’s night vision equipment.
“Having the chance to give back to our teammates off-post in this small way was particularly meaningful for all of us,” Lt. Welch said, in a provided statement.
The helicopter crew was able to adjust their radio to communicate with members of the search party on the ground.
Later, a MEDEVAC Black Hawk helicopter that was doing separate training heard the radio traffic and volunteered to help.
Searching the southern part of Black River with its infrared camera, the Black Hawk crew was able to spot the man clinging to a branch on Poors Island, a half mile from the search party’s command center.
“He was able to hold onto the tree to avoid being swept away,” Chief Carpenter said.
The chief said the Apache crew shined a light on the man as ground crews got there and got him to safety.
Chief Carpenter said the rescued man received treatment at Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown, for minor injuries, and was soon released.
The chief, who has spent 14 years with the Black River department and nine years with Watertown fire department, said the pairing that night was unusual.
“In my fire career, I’ve never known a Black Hawk could assist us this way. It benefitted greatly that night,” he said. “(His family members) were ecstatic to see he was still alive and able to get treatment.”
©2017 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)
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