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Yuma air station's SAR helps save life during Labor Day weekend

17 Sep 2009 | Cpl. Laura A. Mapes

During the Labor Day holiday, Search and Rescue personnel from the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz., assisted U.S. Border Patrol in saving the life of an injured woman in the Jacumba Mountains, Calif.

SAR received the call just after 6 p.m. and, after gathering information about the situation, they dispatched at approximately 7 p.m.

Because of the approximate 40-minute, 80-mile trek, fuel was a major concern during the rescue, said Capt. Sean Mitzel, SAR HH-1N Huey pilot.

Hueys can carry roughly 1,400 pounds of fuel for approximately two hours of flight. However, with a 40-minute flight there and back, along with rescue time, the crew needed to refuel before their return.

“I knew they had enough fuel to get there and enough fuel to get back, but not enough to do the rescue and get back,” said Sgt. Sean McKeown, SAR avionics mechanic. “I locked on refueling from Imperial County Airport.”

Fuel wasn’t the only concern of the SAR crew. The Sept. 7, 2009, weather was “nasty” and wind gusts reached approximately 25 mph, making the rescue difficult, according to Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Skelton, the SAR corpsman who responded to the call. Orographic lift, or rising air, created turbulence on the Huey during the rescue.

“Considering the conditions, the rescue was executed very well due to the crew’s high level of training,” said Mitzel.

The patient was located in a mountainous bowl with three very steep sides, causing station rescuers further difficulty gaining access to the injured man.

“During the rescue I felt well trained and well prepared for what happened,” said Skelton.

After the roughly hour-long rescue, Skelton and the victim were transported to El Centro Hospital, where the patient received medical attention.

“This won’t affect the way we train, because we are already preparing ourselves for these types of situations,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jennifer Schellenberg, station SAR corpsman.

SAR has conducted 12 rescues so far in 2009, according to Schellenberg.

In 2008, station SAR went on 24 rescue missions. Of those, SAR rescued 15 civilians and nine service members.

“(This rescue) proves that we need to stay vigilant and be prepared to answer the call when no one else is able to,” said Mitzel.

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Marine Corps Air Station Yuma