Over 250 Residents, Vactioners Rescued From Dolly's Wrath
New Mexico Army National Guard aviators put their hoist training
to the test not once, not twice, but 57 times July 27 after
Tropical Depression Dolly caused flooding in the high desert resort
community of Ruidoso, NM. By the end of the mission, the UH-60
Black Hawk helicopter crews had picked up more than 250 residents
This feat set a state record for the number of victims rescued
in two days. "[The Black Hawk] kind of looked like Noah's Ark in
the back," said Army Staff Sgt. Ian Weiger.
Army Capt. Daniel Purcell said the effort was a record-breaker.
"There is no way in our aviation history in this state that we've
saved or rescued that many people at once," he said. "Certainly a
record, as far as rescues go. We were just doing what we were
trained to do."
The July 27 helicopter crew consisted of pilots Purcell and
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charles Boehler, along with their flight
crew, Weiger and Sgt. 1st Class Greg Holmes.
Hundreds of residents and vacationers were stranded due to the
swift rise of the Rio Ruidoso, which runs through the town of
Ruidoso, southeast of Albuquerque. The rushing river tore through
14 bridges, engulfed roadways and continued to create more rivers,
all of which prevented people from escaping.
Crossing the river was impossible, as even the trees cut down by
rescue workers to act as bridges were unsafe to use. The high
waters completely encircled one campground, creating an island that
was the only dry ground for the vacationers.
Before the campers had a chance to panic, the Black Hawks were
hovering overhead and lowering a hoist and crew to help transport
them to safety.
This mission was performed by using a jungle penetrator, which
is a seat suspended from the helicopter by a sturdy cable. Crew
members strapped in victims one at a time for the ride of their
life from the ground up to the hovering aircraft. Crews were then
able to lift them into the safety of the helicopter.
Some of the 57 people hoisted from the ground on July 27 were
picked up well after sunset, but the helicopter crews are well
versed in night operations with the jungle penetrator. They have
performed extensive training using night-vision goggles to see in
The focus, Purcell said, "was to get the elderly, women and
children out first and then come back for the rest."
Over the next three days, crews would continue to airlift
stranded residents and vacationers in addition to dropping water
and food to those still on the ground.
(Aero-News salutes Army Staff Sgt. Anna Doo, with the New
Mexico National Guard.)