Kayaker saved by eagle-eyed SAR crewman

A search and rescue (SAR) helicopter team from Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island, Washing State, US was en route to rescue a severely distressed hiker on the Okanagan Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) on the evening of 2 July, but temporarily postponed that mission after one of its crewmembers spotted a different potential victim in the water east of Whidbey Island, the US Navy has reported.

NAS Whidbey’s SAR unit departed from the base just after 19:00 hrs following notification from the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. As the helicopter transited over Dugualla Bay, one of its crewmen spotted a man in the water near an overturned kayak. Turning toward the scene, it became apparent the kayaker was struggling to stay afloat in the cold Puget Sound water. Once overhead the crew lowered a rescue basket to the man while another crewmember suited up in case he had to assist the victim in the water. The kayaker, who was suffering from hypothermia and exhaustion, was able to lift himself into the basket. The crew then hoisted him onboard and flew him back to Ault Field where base paramedics attended to him.

After dropping off the injured kayaker, the crew then resumed its original mission to Okanagan PCT around 20:15 hrs. After locating the distressed hiker who was in a remote area surrounded by tall trees at approximately 5,000 ft (1,500 m) above sea level, the crew intended to rappel down and assess the situation. After dropping the rappel line, it became tangled in the trees, forcing the crew to cut the line and reassess their options. The crew then decided to lower a hoist down to the victim. After getting the hiker onboard the helicopter, who was suffering from severe dehydration and rhabdomyolysis, the SAR crew flew her to Skagit Valley Hospital.

According to the SAR mission commander, Lt Cmdr Steve Hartz, the mission was challenging due to the terrain and surrounding area: “Ground crews would have taken over eight hours to reach her. And in her condition, she may not have made it through the night.”

Hartz also noted that the earlier inadvertent rescue was fortunate for the hypothermic kayaker: “If it was not for the aircrews’ vigilance and constant scan, this individual would not have been identified and quite possibly would not have survived. Our crewmembers did a great job being flexible and adjusting to changing missions quickly.”

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