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40th HS rescues two missing hikers

(From left to right) Capt. James Harris, 40th Helicopter Squadron co-pilot, Capt. Matt Thompson, 40th HS pilot, Maj. Melonie Parmley, 341st Medical Group flight surgeon, Tech. Sgts. Andrew Blankenship and Daniel Marchick, 40th HS special mission aviators, walk away from a helicopter May 30, 2017, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. The crew saved two girls and their dog Tuesday morning after the girls got lost while hiking in Sluice Boxes State Park Monday night. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Delia Marchick)

Capt. James Harris, left, a 40th Helicopter Squadron co-pilot; Capt. Matt Thompson, a 40th HS pilot; Maj. Melonie Parmley, a 341st Medical Group flight surgeon; and Tech. Sgts. Andrew Blankenship and Daniel Marchick, 40th HS special mission aviators, walk away from a helicopter May 30, 2017, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. The crew saved two girls and their dog after the girls got lost while hiking in Sluice Boxes State Park May 29. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Delia Marchick)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. (AFNS) -- The 40th Helicopter Squadron saved two girls and their dog from the Sluice Boxes State Park about 30 miles southeast of Great Falls May 30, 2017.

The two girls were reported missing after they failed to return from their hike in the evening of May 29 and the 40th HS received the call to assist with the search and rescue in the early morning of May 30.

“Maj. Matthew Sims, Capt. Kyle Lenz, Staff Sgt. Bryan Mill, and Staff Sgt. Mattew Tidball got the call around midnight and launched shortly after 1 a.m. this morning for their first flight,” said Capt. Matt Thompson, the 40th HS aircraft commander.

The crew flew two flights in eight hours but were unable to locate the girls.

They were relieved by a second crew consisting of Capts. Matt Thompson and James Harris, both pilots; Tech. Sgts. Daniel Marchick and Andrew Blankenship, both special mission aviators; and Maj. Melonie Parmley, a flight surgeon.

“Our deputy commander said the first crew could fly two sorties throughout the night but after that the day crew would pick it up,” said Thompson. “I think the thought process there is that if the SAR keeps going through the day then we would want them to be ready to fly tonight.”

However, the alert crew would not need to continue the SAR that night.

With daylight on their side the second crew was able to spot the two girls within minutes of officially beginning their search.

“We did two initial passes just to orient ourselves to the area, we then turned back on the third pass to actually start searching and it took us maybe five minutes to find them,” said Harris.

According to Thompson they were about two minutes into the third pass when Harris spotted them right away.

Once the girls were located, the aircrew communicated and coordinated with the ground search parties to walk to the girls since they thought it would be faster than waiting for the helicopter to reach the gas amount required for a hover and hoist.

“The ground search party couldn’t get across the river so that’s when everybody knew that we had to make the decision to do something,” said Blankenship.

The team worked to set up the hoist, then lowered the flight doctor down to a clearing where the two girls were waiting and waited for the doctor to do an assessment of the girls.

When they heard back from the flight doctor they hoisted the two girls up and noticed the girls brought their dog, who was safe inside one of the SAR jackets the girls were wearing.

“One of them didn’t even have shoes on because she lost her shoes in the creek,” said Parmley. “She fell in, her sister fell in, she went in after her sister and they ended up on the other side of the river and couldn’t get back.”

According to Parmley, the girls hiked up the ridge to aid the helo crew in finding them so they were bruised, banged up and a little cold but otherwise OK.

While this marks the 418th and 419th save for the 40th HS, the aircrew doesn’t take full credit for this save.

“A lot of the credit goes to the older sister who made the decision to climb up the ridge and find an open spot so we could see them,” said Harris.

The aircrew flew the girls and their dog to the parking lot of the Sluice Boxes where their parents, sheriffs and local emergency medical technicians were waiting for them.

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