SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
In the aftermath of Hurricane Eta, northern Honduras experienced severe flooding and water-logged lowlands that resulted in many residents being stranded and left uncertain of being rescued.
Two U.S. Army UH-60L Black Hawk aircrews with the U.S. Army Air Ambulance Detachment, 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment, one with the call sign WITCHDOCTOR 06, conducting search and rescue operations on Nov. 6 and 7, 2020, came to their aid.
Nov. 6, 2020
Approximately 40 minutes into the flight, the crew located a young man and small child clinging to the top of a large palm tree, isolated from land and only inches above the flood-water line. After conducting several reconnaissance flybys, the crew determined the child was too small to be secured to any of the standard rescue equipment on board.
U.S. Army Capt. Jeffery Crook, company commander and pilot in command with the 1-228th Aviation Regiment, discussed the risks of rescuing the small child by hand with his crew. The palm branches could snag U.S. Army Staff Sgt. William Bavetta, a flight medic with the 1-228th Aviation Regiment, or the hoist line, and the rotor downwash from the helicopter could cause the tree to sway or cause the girl to fall out of Bavetta’s arms.
“I will not drop that child,” said Bavetta.
U.S. Army Sgt. Matthew Kolkow, a crew chief with the 1-228th Aviation Regiment, guided Crook and U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ronald Falleck, a pilot with the 1-228th Aviation Regiment, about 30 feet above the tree top, and provided hover cues to prevent the slightest oscillation from occurring in the hoist line to keep Bavetta, or the line itself, from getting caught in the branches.
Bavetta rode the hoist down to where the children were located and grabbed the young girl in his arms. Upon reaching the cabin, he carefully transferred the girl to Kolkow to repeat the maneuver once more for her older brother.
With both children in the UH-60, Bavetta performed medical assessments on them to ensure they had no life-threatening injuries.
Nov. 7, 2020
U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Alexander Wilson, the standardization pilot and pilot in command with the 1-228th Aviation Regiment, and his crew rendered lifesaving aid to people shortly after beginning their flight.
The flight medic on board spotted a largely submerged building with 10-20 people on the roof, waiving to the aircraft in a distressed manner. He expressed his willingness to hoist down to the damaged building and gain a better understanding of the situation.
After Wilson led his crew through a risk analysis and briefed all contingencies required to conduct the rescue operation, the flight medic was hoisted onto the roof where he needed to disconnect from the hoist.
The flight medic arranged for three ambulatory patients to be hoisted to safety before communicating the need to go inside the building to search for additional people. He returned to the roof and requested a Skedco rescue stretcher for an elderly, disabled woman.
After authorizing the use of the stretcher, Wilson helped direct U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Thomas Richards, a pilot with the 1-228th Aviation Regiment, in maintaining a stable hover while on controls for the extended period of time.
During the first attempt at retrieval, the stretcher began to oscillate as it passed through the zone of disturbance. U.S. Army Spc. Kristopher Paranteau, a crew chief and hoist operator with the 1-228th Aviation Regiment, communicated the issue to the rest of the crew and returned the stretcher to the roof.
Richards maintained control of the aircraft as Paranteau made a second attempt and successfully hoisted the stretcher up to the helicopter.
The crew repeated the hoist procedure to rescue a young, pregnant woman from the same rooftop and took them to a nearby helicopter landing zone for follow-on medical attention in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
“Central America is a very, very challenging environment to fly in when the weather is good, let alone when the weather is bad,” said U.S. Army Col. Steven Gventer, commander of JTF-B. “These aircrews earned these medals - they deserve them. They were brave and did things during some unbelievably dangerous times.”
Air Medals are awarded to U.S. and civilian personnel for single acts of heroism or meritorious achievements while participating in aerial flight, and foreign military personnel in actual combat in support of operations.
1-228th Aviation Regiment Air Medal Recipients:
Capt. Jeffery Crook, company commander and pilot in command
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ronald Falleck, pilot
Staff Sgt. William Bavetta, flight medic
Sgt. Matthew Kolkow, crew chief
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Alexander Wilson, standardization pilot and pilot in command
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Thomas Richards, pilot
Spc. Kristopher Paranteau, crew chief and hoist operator