This UH-60A Black Hawk crew returned yesterday to Wheeler Army Airfield after helping to recover the bodies of tour helicopter crash victims on Kauai. It included Spc. David King, Staff Sgt. David Lara, Spc. Jason Clark and Chief Warrant Officers Mark McClure and John Pool.

Recovery of bodies
challenges Wheeler aviators

Staff Sgt. David Lara, an Army medic, made 18 trips down a 200-foot cable to help recover the bodies of four people who were killed in Friday's tour helicopter crash on Kauai.

"We didn't know what to expect when we got down there," Lara, 26, said yesterday. "The first spot we picked, we thought it was level but it wasn't, and the fire captain said there wasn't anything to tie into, so we had to bring everyone back up and move 25 to 35 feet."

The wreckage of the Bali Hai tour helicopter, which crashed Friday into the side of a mountain northeast of Port Allen, was at the 2,900-foot level, said Chief Warrant Officer Mark McClure, one of two Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilots who flew the recovery missions starting on Monday. The other pilot was Chief Warrant Officer John Pool.

"It was on a ridge line leading to Mount Waialeale," McClure said. He said the tour helicopter had plowed right into the side of the mountain, which had a 70-degree slope.

The winds in the area prevented the Kauai Fire Department's helicopter from hovering long enough over the crash site to lower rescue teams, so a heavier UH-60 Black Hawk and a crew of five were called in from the Army's 68th Medical Company from Wheeler Army Airfield to assist.

Army Chief Warrant Officer John Pool showed the UH60A Army Blackhawk helicopter involved in the recovery of tour-copter crash victims on Kauai yesterday.

"The winds were about 35 mph," said McClure, 42, who has 2,400 hours of flying time. "That makes it hard to control a light helicopter like one the Fire Department has.

"Large ones like ours ... don't get tossed around so much. We can take a lot more turbulence," said McClure, a 24-year Army veteran.

Pool, 35, said clouds would suddenly engulf the helicopter during the two days of the recovery mission. "We had to back off and then come back in when the clouds passed," he said.

Because of the steep angle, McClure said, the nose of the helicopter was just 10 feet from the ridge while the tail wheel of the 64-foot Black Hawk was 200 feet above the slope of the mountain.

Lara said that he was required to accompany each member of the Kauai rescue squad down the hoist to the crash site, and that's why he made so many trips. Lara made 18 trips on Monday, while the other medic on the mission, Spc. David King, made 10 the following day.

Operating the winch, called the Penetrator, which has seats for two people, was Spc. Jason Clark, the helicopter's crew chief.

Two bodies were recovered on Monday, and two more Tuesday.

A fifth is believed to be trapped beneath the fuselage.

The UH-60 is one of nine maintained by the 68th Medical Company. Four were deployed to Afghanistan in March along with 65 members of the Wheeler unit.

Five were left at Wahiawa to help the Army maintain its commitment to Honolulu city officials to provide around-the-clock emergency medical evacuation services under a 30-year-old Military Assistance to Safety and Traffic program. There is always one UH-60 Black Hawk on the standby pad at Wheeler.

"This was a total team effort," said McClure, who has flown 200 MAST missions since 1994. "We all have to be communicating with each other -- from the pilots to the medics, crew chief and even the fire rescue people. It takes a coordinated effort."

For Lara and King, this also might have been their last MAST mission. They are scheduled to be rotated to Afghanistan in the near future.



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