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No stand-by Llama rescue chopper on Denali in 2009

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I just received word that due to state and federal budget cuts, the Llama helicopter which is normally on stand-by in Talkeetna will not be funded this year.


I don't have a lot of facts right now but learned that support may still be available, it will merely be on a case-sensitive basis.


Fixed wing rescue will still be available at 14k camp on Denali, if possible.


Potential helicopter support will be dictated by availability from several private companies. As a last resort the military chopper may still be available.


The bad thing for those in need is that the chopper pilot who has headed the flights since the program's start in 1991 will not be flying.


To voice concern or comments, email Lisa Murkowski, Republican U.S. Senator for the state of Alaska.




Edited by Kraken

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Damn, that is bad news for injured climbers and the rangers. The rangers will have to haul people out farther.


Maybe it will return a different ethic to the range. A more "wild" ethic of more conservative climbing. Nah, more people will die there.

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"Potential helicopter support will be dictated by availability from several private companies. "


This sounds like one of those retarded things where some number of privately contracted rescue flights will turn out to be more expensive than the original program.

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Get your VISA and MC ready.


While I certainly hope when people need assistance it will be available but on the other hand perhaps this will be good in the long run.

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Article in today's ADN




Denali rangers scramble for mountaineer rescue helicopter

NO STANDBY SERVICE: High-altitude rescues could be more difficult.



Published: April 21st, 2009 09:02 PM


For the first time in 18 years, the climbing season on Mount McKinley opens with the absence of a high-altitude helicopter on standby in case of emergency.




National Park Service officials who oversee climbing on the 20,320-foot peak in Denali National Park and Preserve blame contracting problems.


They said last week they are trying to work out a temporary arrangement to have a Wasilla-based Eurocopter AS350 B3 Astar on call and hoping, if need be, the Army at Fort Wainwright can help out with its CH-47 Chinooks.


The B3 Astar has a ceiling of 20,000 feet, just a few hundred feet shy of the summit of North America's tallest peak. And the Chinooks have gone as high as 19,600 feet to perform rescues on McKinley.


John Leonard, the new chief mountaineering ranger for McKinley, said he is confident helicopters will be available if needed to assist climbers who get into trouble.


"We are doing our best to try to make sure we have the capability," added Ken Barnes, the Park Service's aviation manager for Alaska.


More than 1,000 climbers per year now pay a $200 per person mountaineering fee to take a shot at the summit. Climbers generally consider that a rescue fee, but Park Service officials contend the fee -- the highest charged to enter any park in the country -- is intended only to offset administrative costs associated with the climbing season that runs from mid-April to mid-July.



Talkeetna rangers now put climbers through a lengthy orientation briefing before they are allowed on the mountain, maintain a ranger station at the McKinley base camp at 7,200 feet on the Kahiltna Glacier, and conduct regular ranger patrols along the popular West Buttress route to the summit.


The Park Service claims all of these have helped diminish the need for rescues, although problems still arise.


Just over 1,200 people registered to climb McKinley last year. There were 16 search-and-rescue operations in and around McKinley, according to the Park Service. Eleven of them involved medical emergencies, most of which were associated with altitude.


Five climbers died in the area, but only two of those deaths were on McKinley, which in some previous years has seen up to 11 deaths and as many as two dozen rescues.


"We're not doing that many rescues anymore," Barnes said.


Still, the agency had planned to have a rescue helicopter available in Talkeetna this year. Bids for that operation were solicited in mid-February but stopped less than a month later.


"The contract went out later than we'd hoped," Barnes said, "(and) basically, we only got one bid."


That was submitted by Evergreen Helicopters of Alaska, which had previously held the McKinley contract. Evergreen pilot Jim Hood has flown dozens of successful rescues out of Talkeetna over the past 10 years.


According to Evergreen here, the company had hoped the Park Service would renew its contract for its Aerospatiale Lama. Instead, the agency decided to cancel the solicitation and rebid the contract in the fall.


"There was quite a bit of interest in the contract," Barnes said about inquiries from companies that didn't bid.


A fair share of that interest came from companies complaining that the timing of the bid process was wrong, he added. Some felt they were restricted from bidding because there wasn't enough time for any company other than Evergreen to gear up for Talkeetna operation before the climbing season began. That raised some concerns about fairness.


"We're required to have free and open competition," Barnes said. "We are going to put this out for rebid" probably in September.


Meanwhile, Barnes has approached Prism Helicopters, a Vancouver-based company that has a B3 Astar in Wasilla, about its interests in bidding for "on-call" services, and he is consulting the Alaska State Troopers about whether that agency's B3 Astar could be made available in an emergency.


"I actually did talk to them about supporting us,'' Barnes said.


Meanwhile, Leonard said, "we're in the midst of doing a program evaluation. We will have a helicopter here in the future for a number of reasons. The Lama may or may not have been the long-term answer.''


Leonard noted the B3 Astar can fly slightly higher than the Lama and carry a bigger payload. The French claim to have touched the skids of a B3 down on the summit of Mount Everest, the world's tallest peak at 29,035 feet.


Barnes said he is hopeful a B3 or a Lama can be made available on an on-call basis for McKinley in the near term, but if not, he said, the Park Service might try to get by with the use of a Bell 407. The 407 is a workhorse helicopter flown by several companies in Alaska. Leonard said it might be a good choice for servicing the Park Service base camp on the Kahiltna and for evacuating climbers from there, "but its ceiling is limited."


To go to the 14,000-foot camp to try to save climbers with high-altitude pulmonary or cerebral edema, or those injured in falls high on the mountain, everyone agrees the Park Service is going to need the use of some sort of specialized, high-altitude chopper.

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