Image: A SC-HART rescue mission on 5 October (Senior Master Sgt. Edward Snyder, 169th Fighter Wing, South Carolina National Guard)
The South Carolina Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (SC-HART) rescued approximately 26 stranded citizens throughout flood affected areas during unprecedented levels of rainfall in South Carolina on 4 October, after deploying from McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover. SC-HART is a collaborative effort between aviation units of the South Carolina Army National Guard and the South Carolina State Urban Search and Rescue Task Force.
One of the rescue missions that SC-HART completed involved a first responder in trouble after he attempted to help a stranded mother and child, according to Dan McManus, assistant state fire marshal with the South Carolina Office of the State Fire Marshall and director of South Carolina State Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1 (SC-TF1). McManus described the rescue in a phone interview after all missions for the team that day had ceased. Sometime around 10:30 hrs on 4 October, a firefighter in a rural part of Columbia was attempting to rescue a mother and her child from the porch of their house. Flood conditions had developed around the house, most likely due to overflow of the nearby Congaree River. With witnesses nearby, the firefighter slipped during the rescue attempt, falling down a storm drain and travelling several hundred feet to the opposite side of the drain. Equipped with a radio, the firefighter was able to make a mayday call out at some point during his fall. Once on the opposite side of the drain he was able to grab a tree limb, buying valuable time for rescue efforts to save him. The City of Columbia Fire Department was tracking his location.
Fortunately, team members with SC-HART were monitoring the fire department’s radio transmissions that morning, and quickly started mobilising one of their UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopters at McEntire to help with the response. Challenges would need to be overcome with the response effort, with one of them being the wooded area of the recovery location. Another challenge presented was whom to rescue first – the family or the firefighter – as both their situations were dire.
The house surrounding the porch the mother and her child were on was quickly becoming unstable under the harsh flood conditions. The firefighter meanwhile had lost his grip on the branch the was holding. Losing his grip on the branch meant the firefighter was swept out into the woods, possibly as far as a quarter mile away. It also meant that the fire department had temporarily lost track of his location. The fire department directed SC-HART to first rescue the family. SC-HART was able to hoist the mother and her child to safety. Perhaps aided by the rotors of the Black Hawk, the firefighter was located and was able to be hoisted to safety, as well.
Seeing the UH-60, others in the area climbed onto rooftops and called for help, providing opportunities for SC-HART to perform even more rescues in the area. Within a three to four hour time period, SC-HART was able to hoist at least 26 citizens to safety. Ten of these rescues reportedly involved children, including two infants.
McManus asked the rescue team about the flood recovery missions when they returned to home station: “They said it was just like a training mission, only at super high speed.”
An SC-HART crew consists of three aviation service members from the South Carolina Army National Guard, with two pilots and a crew chief, and three search and rescue members from SC-TF1, two of these being trained rescue swimmers guided by a Rescue Team Leader (RTL) during the hoist.
More than 2,800 South Carolina National Guard members were activated in response to the floods.