MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- Members of Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, Search and Rescue, responded to a call Jan. 2 to airlift a 45-year-old civilian man involved in an all-terrain-vehicle accident south of Glamis, Calif.
The victim drove over a berm in the sand dunes and dropped 60 feet into a bowl, landing the vehicle nose-first and crushing his chest against the steering wheel, according to Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian Gerdes, SAR in-flight medical technician.
"The rescue was pretty straight-forward," he said. "Emergency Medical Technicians from the Bureau of Land Management were first on the scene and conducted the initial assessment and treatment. We landed, got out, I talked with the on-site EMTs, brought him into the helicopter where I re-assessed him and we flew him to Yuma Regional Medical Center."
Injuries possibly included fractured ribs, a punctured lung and internal bleeding, Gerdes said.
"The patient was alert, but had a lot of tenderness in the chest and abdominal area," he said. "Slamming into a steering wheel with the chest usually has a high probability of internal injuries."
After normal working hours (7 a.m. to 5 p.m.), weekends and holidays, SAR has 30 minutes from receiving a call to be up in the air, said Cpl. Jeff Baker, SAR flight chief.
"It took us 15 minutes," he said. "The duty crew received the page around 3:15 p.m., Rescue 1 (call sign for the helicopter when it is in the air) took off at 3:30, we picked him up at 3:50 and dropped him off at the hospital by 4:10. That's a pretty fast response time."
Due to a high volume of people on ATVs in the vicinity of the accident, the crew overflew the site the first time and had to call on-site EMTs to pop a smoke grenade, Baker said. Even with the delay, Rescue 1 arrived well before they were expected.
"The greatest danger of landing a helicopter in the sand is landing on a slope and having the bird lean into the sand, causing the rotors to hit the ground," he said. "We actually started sinking backwards and had to move the helicopter forward a bit to stabilize."
Another danger is curious onlookers riding their ATVs into the rotors, and with a high volume of riders in the area, it could be a real danger, Baker said. Without the care of the SAR maintenance personnel, though, the bird would not have been available to even make the flight.
Although the crew members felt the rescue was routine, complications could have arisen for the victim without their timely intervention.