A grateful troop of Boy Scouts owe their rescue to the New Mexico State Police and an H145.
In early October 2022, 27 Boy Scouts and adults set out from the visitor centre in New Mexico's Gila National Forest to camp amid its stunning cliffs. Heavy rain caused the river to rise and split around their site, cutting them off. Responding to a call, the Santa Fe National Guard and New Mexico State Police (NMSP) initiated a rescue, the latter with their hoist-equipped H145. All 27 campers were located and hoisted out, thanks to old-fashioned smoke signals and a very modern helicopter.
A tortuous flight path
Launching from Double Eagle airport in Albuquerque, Sgt. Kevin Killpack, pilot with the NMSP, was joined by hoist operator Kurtus Tenorio, tactical EMS medic Jodie Esquibel and rescue specialist Steve Montano. Rain and low cloud ceilings forced Killpack to divert course to avoid storm cells. The 10,000-foot-high mountains also impeded a straight route in, so he refuelled sixty miles east of where the Boy Scouts were camped. Another shot: this time from the north and staying at 100 feet, Killpack tortuously worked his way around higher terrain.
"We had determined the night before that the only way to get to the scene was via helicopter," he says. "We were never sure we were going to make it until we were only about five miles away."
Two at a time to safety
Once on scene, they had to maximise time and fuel. While Killpack kept the H145 in a stable 100- to 200-foot hover, Tenorio lowered Esquibel and Montano to the waiting campers. There, they harnessed two Scouts at a time to the hoist's hook; Tenorio winched them up and into the H145's cabin. "There were a lot of high fives and smiles. Those kids were definitely brave," says Tenorio.
The team were acutely conscious of their helicopter's gross weight. Calculating in real time, Killpack was able to tell Tenorio how many more children they could carry, who then relayed that to his ground team so they could pack up the most passengers. "We train for this," says Killpack. "But the aircraft is easy to work with. The computer system gives me information about our weight and how much power I have."
The missing four
Any thought of landing was ruled out due to trees and cliffs, leaving only two hoist-equipped helicopters to fly people to safety. Halfway through the mission, the NMSP learned about a smaller group of campers who had set off down the river. Fortunately, the small party of four lit a fire and sent up a smoke signal. "We flew over them multiple times coming in and out of there. We never would have seen them if we hadn't seen the smoke," Tenorio says.
Besides the hoist, the NMSP helicopter carries a forward-looking infrared, search light, loudspeakers and satellite antennae, plus a tactical flight operator station-overall, 1,500 lbs of mission equipment. With just a single helicopter for the state, they use the H145 for everything from assisting tactical law enforcement squads, to working with the FBI and Homeland Security. And of course, doing search and rescue.
Seventeen hours after starting out, the mission ended. Such was the intensity of the rotorcraft's activity - six roundtrips from the Boy Scouts' site to the visitor centre - that their refuelling runs had exhausted gas reserves at the town of Truth or Consequences, grounding Killpack and his crew while they waited for a fuel truck. Killpack is unfazed. "You just do your job just like you're trained for. We were all happy with the way this mission went."