Anchorage police scale side of mountain to rescue child

The child was in a vehicle that went down the side of a cliff

By Senior Airman Curtis Beach
Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Public Affairs    

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — While Alaska wilderness provides picturesque landscapes, its rugged terrain can change from friendly to deadly in a moment’s notice.

On July 16, Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson Fire Department and emergency responders received a call for a rescue off Arctic Valley road.

AP Photo/Mark Thiessen

“We were dispatched to a child known to be in a vehicle that went down the side of a cliff,” said Kenny Auer, a 673d Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter. “That location is a pretty far response from here, a good 15 to 20 minutes when you factor in the conditions of the road, driving up the mountain, and the fact it was raining at the time.”

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Wilson, 673d Civil Engineer Squadron battalion fire chief and incident commander, was the first JBER responder on scene.

“When we jumped in the truck, we didn’t know what we’d find up the mountain,” Wilson said. “All we knew was there was a kid left unattended in a vehicle, and somehow the vehicle went over the ledge. We didn’t know the status of the child.”

The firefighters received more information upon arriving at the scene, where Anchorage Police Department officers had already arrived.

“That’s when we found out we were dealing with a nine-year old who was in a vehicle that had gone approximately 120 to 150 feet down the side of the cliff,” Auer recalled.

Anchorage police had scaled down the side of the mountain to make contact with the child, who was found about 10 feet away from the vehicle.

“They gave us an update saying he was conscious and breathing, all that good stuff,” Wilson said. “He was complaining of some pain in his leg, but wasn’t able to communicate much beyond that.”

Wilson described the scene as chaotic due to the number of responders; in addition to the JBER fire and Anchorage police departments, JBER medical personnel responded.

Wilson, as incident commander, led the responders in creating a rescue plan to get the child to safety.

The plan involved Auer hiking down to the child with a basic life support bag, which can obtain vital signs, stop any major bleeding and deal with most medical emergencies. The team decided they would secure the child to a backboard and pull him up to safety using rope rigging from the fire truck.

“We always train for the worst scenario, and that’s what was in the back of my mind, but once I got there I was relieved that the child was ok for the most part,” Auer said. “He had a hard time speaking with strangers, so he didn’t answer too many questions. He just wanted his mom.”

Once the team of responders had lifted the child to safety and his mother, JBER medical personnel transported the family to a local hospital to be treated.

Wilson said the rescue was successful because of the quick response and teamwork demonstrated by all parties involved.

“It was impressive. Everybody worked well together,” Wilson said. “It’s often the case when something serious happens that everybody locks in. It was super efficient the way everybody worked together. APD was a huge help, being able to get down there and get the status of the patient. That was critical, because our tactics could have been different had they not been there.”

Auer said it was a relief that the child didn’t incur any major injuries.

“A lot of my friends have children in that age group, so it really hit home with me, and I just wanted us to do everything possible to ensure sure we reunited the boy with his mother.”

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