A training exercise got real fast when firefighting crews were practicing a helicopter airlift—which was interrupted by a helicopter airlift rescue in the Sandias.

On May 8, a hiker in Gutierrez Canyon called 911 after having a medical episode that left him unable to hike out. That’s according to Lt. David Lujan, spokesman for the Bernalillo County Fire Department.

Lujan said an air unit was dispatched at 5:47 p.m., arriving at 6:13. Lujan said a ground crew arrived shortly before the air crew.

Lujan said the man was having a hard time getting off the trail, a medical problem was inhibiting his ability to walk on the trail. “We used cell phone communication and because we were talking to him we were able to send him an ‘SOS token,’ which is an interactive text message that enables the rescue team to confirm an individuals exact location.”

The air crew was able to safely conduct a hoist operation, meeting with another ground crew near Ribs, comprised of the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s department and Albuquerque Ambulance.

“This was the collaberation of the BCSO, the Bernalillo County Fire Department and a program physician from UNM’s School of Medicine Reach and Treat program, Albuquerque Ambulance. All of us worked hard and came together because we really are stronger together,” said Lujan.

The whole mission took about 15 minutes, Lujan said.

On the night of the rescue, the crew at the East Mountain Battalion in Tijeras had been working on air support training, specifically night hoisting, he said.

Airlift training that preceded an airlift rescue by the Bernalillo County Fire Department. Courtesy photo.

Lujan said a world-renowned air rescue organization called Air Zermatt in Switzerland sent Oliver Kreuzer to train with them that evening.

After the rescue mission, the battalion returned immediately to their training, he said.

Lujan said a ground crew can comprise 15 to 20 people and that the department works to limit the size of rescue teams to keep resources that may be needed in their districts, and so fewer people have the potential to get hurt.