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Seven Summits Challenge Update

By Staff Sgt. Nick Gibson
920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.

In this blog entry, Staff Sgt. Nick Gibson, a U.S. Air Force Reserve pararescueman and physician assistant student from Gulf Breeze, Fla., stationed at Patrick AFB, tells his story about the journey to the top of Mount Everest with his fellow Airmen. The team of six Airmen are on an independent 50-day journey. For more information, you may read Gibson’s previous blog post.

Photo of the Black Pyramid formation on Mount Everest.

April 22: Today we got up bright and early at 3 a.m. and packed up to hike into the icefall for the first time. While we are only going in about halfway and then turning around, we are all a little jittery over the known dangers that the icefall holds. We planned to go to what is called the “football field” and then return back to camp. I had my Sherpa, Mingma Tenzing II, with me and we got within 30 minutes of the football field before heavy fog turned us around. This was our first experience after practicing earlier with ladders across the crevasses. As long as you focus on your crampons and the ladder, and not what lies beneath, it’s fine. Easier done at night under headlamp than during the day when it’s hard not to notice the deepening blue of the dense ice beneath you. I was pretty exhausted by the time we returned, however as the sun surfaced from the horizon, the beauty of the icefall revealed itself almost as an explanation of the danger toll. The mystery of the icefall no longer hangs over us.

April 24: I am writing this from Camp 1 (19,900 feet) as we all recover from a long day through the icefall. This morning felt much better than the previous half-trip we made. I am relived to be past the West Shoulder with its overlooking dangers. The tent is getting hit by midday sun and is almost unbearably hot! What a contrast to the cold temperatures at night. We are finding any way we can to pass the time as our bodies adjust to the low pressure at this height. Colin, one of the other Air Force guys, has his Sherpa pitching snowballs at him that he swings for the fences on with a shovel. Books are very popular, although it can be difficult to read about the “cold beer and pizza” that the characters consume within the pages. Often, though, it eventually turns back to swapping stories from adventures on deployments or training. This bond becomes the only glue that survives any temperature the mountain provides. After tomorrow night, it is on to Camp 2 and 21,300 feet!

icefall

April 27: We are enjoying our only full day at Camp 2 (21,300 feet). The air makes it difficult to want to do much but sit around and read or nap. The point of these rotations aren’t to do much anyway, but to simply be at that altitude. Many of us have begun battling the cough, which makes laughing at each others’ jokes a dangerous thing, ha ha! One of the climbers, not part of our group, has become ill and was showing very low oxygen saturation levels. Other happenings in camp have given me an opportunity to care for this climber and exchange information with the physicians at the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) at Base Camp. They have established a good care plan for the climber that we are implementing with good results. We are all going to descend tomorrow morning back to Base Camp for some much needed recovery time. This is the highest I will carry my good Nikon camera due to the weight and the desire to have maximum focus on climbing. I am very pleased with the images I have been able to capture and look forward to using them in my exhibit show in Atlanta when I return!

April 30: I am finally back to the Internet here in Gorek Shep! I got very little sleep the last night in Camp 2, but the trip back down to Base Camp went well. I could feel my strength returning as I got lower. I went in to the HRA to follow up on my patient and see about getting treated myself for my cough. The patient made it down, slow, but fine to Base Camp and is doing much better. Best medicine in these mountains is almost always descend, descend, descend. While my oxygen saturation was around 90%, I am starting some antibiotics (second course of the trip) for an upper respiratory infection. I have between four and seven days rest to make sure I am healthy for rotation two. This time we will spend a night at Camp 3 (24,000 feet). This is the highest we will go without oxygen. The next rotation after that will be our summit bid and we will sleep on oxygen upon arrival to Camp 3 on that trip. I feel strong today and slept like a rock last night! I am so grateful for the support of my family, friends and all those who’ve been so supportive of this expedition. Please, let’s not forget that our veterans are climbing their own mountains of recovery from injuries, physical and mental, and while we can’t climb for them, our support could be the oxygen that means all the difference in reaching their summit. Please engage and support you veterans!!!

PHOTO: (top) Early morning photo of Mount Everest from Camp 2 walking to Camp 1. The black pyramid formation is on the left. A team of six active-duty Airmen is currently on their way to climb Mount Everest, the highest mountain on Earth. (Courtesy photo) (bottom) Airmen descend a three-part ladder in the Khumbu Icefall. (Courtesy photo)

Information courtesy of USAF Seven Summits Challenge blog. For more information, follow the team’s progress on the Seven Summits website, Seven Summits blog and Facebook page. You can also visit the 920th Rescue Wing Facebook page. The USAF 7 Summits Challenge is not officially sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Air Force. It is a team of military members acting unofficially, and with no DOD financial assistance, to spread goodwill about the U.S. Air Force.

Behind the scenes of Team Rescue at Space Shuttle Endeavour launch

By Lt Col Robert Haston
920th Rescue Wing Chief of Safety                   

No space shuttle crew ascends to the Heavens without a few angels on its shoulders. The 920th Rescue Wing, stationed out of Patrick Air Force Base, is always on deck to ensure the astronauts are safe in case of a mishap. In this blog post, Lt Col Haston, an HH-60G Pave Hawk Pilot,  provides us with a glimpse of the 920th Rescue Wing’s mission before, during, and after launch.

Team Rescue

Our support for the launch starts three hours before launch (L-180 in NASA lingo) when two HH-60s from Patrick AFB arrive at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) to be ready for different types of launch area emergencies (Modes I-IV). At L-120 the first of two more HH-60s is at 6,000 feet over the 20 by 60 mile launch danger zone. They use radar and ship tracking receivers to get a long range picture of boats approaching the area.

Since ships may be closing at up to 30 knots, we initially scan an area a third of the size of Florida. We contact and move the ships, which can be difficult considering the ship may be roughly the size and weight of the Empire State Building, and we are talking to a watch captain who has a limited command of English.

Once we have sorted the big boys out, we have to deal with the professional fishermen who are generally no problem unless they are asleep below decks, which might require pushing their boat around with our rotor wash to wake them up. We also have to deal with sport fishermen and pleasure boaters who run the gamut from competent to clueless. Hopefully there isn’t a swarm of them. In the middle of this (around L-90) we pop up and get gas from a Marine Tanker.

We go land and get ready for our real job, covering for potential post launch mishaps. Modes V-VII (at or near the SLF) are pretty much a helicopter show, so they aren’t too complicated unless the Shuttle winds up in the water or trees, leaking poisonous hydrazine, etc. Mode VIII is overwater rescue which may take place off the Carolinas, and involve three tankers and four helicopters, plus more assets coming down from Cherry Point or New York. From exercises, I can say that the real challenge is if we all arrive on scene to find the astronauts, sort out who gets which, who goes to what hospital, and which tanker goes with which helicopters. Hopefully it isn’t on a moonless night in bad weather.

For more information on Team Rescue, see this story. It was posted toward the end of April to coincide with Endeavour’s original launch window.

PHOTO: Every time a space shuttle takes off, the Rescue Reservists from the 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, are on hand in case of emergency. The 920th Airmen are charged as guardians of the astronauts during NASA space shuttle missions to and from the Kennedy Space Center. This includes four HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters and crew, three HC-130 P/N King aircraft and crew and about 15 pararescuemen, not to mention all of the maintenance support personnel who keep these aged aircraft flying. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Matthew C. Simpson)