WV National Guardsmen Commended For Pocahontas Rescue
Charleston, WV – To say they were surprised to find themselves in a crash situation would probably be an understatement. WV National Guardsmen Jeremy Middleton, Ian Jenkins, and Josh Flesher were three of the seventeen military personnel involved in a Navy helicopter crash in Pocahontas County on Feb 18th. The helicopter was on its way from Ft. Pickett, near Blackstone, VA to Ft Dawson in Preston County when it crash landed in a remote spot on top of Cheat mountain near the Pocahontas-Randolph county line.
The Knighthawk helicopter was taking part in Operation Southbound Trooper, an annual training exercise involving US and NATO military personnel. Middleton, a WV National Guard Staff Sargeant, says they were told the helicopter was new and had only about 20 flight hours. He says sometime after crossing the VA-WV border, they felt it flare, and at almost the same time, heard it hitting trees. He says they had no indication from the crew of the helicopter that anything was amiss.
After the sudden jolt of impact and the realization that they had crashed, Middleton says things began to happen very fast. No one panicked and their training for just such an event kicked in. He says they immediately worked to free two people pinned under the choppers fuselage and build a warming fire from materials salvaged from the aircraft.
The fuselage was intact, although the rotors had been sheared off. While most of the personnel received minor injuries, some received more serious injuries such as broken arms and legs, and fractures. Two Sailors were isolated in the fuselage while awaiting rescue, one with a crushed pelvis, the other with back injuries.
Middleton and his fellow guardsmen were uninjured and offered to climb down to look for help. They had noticed the lights of Durbin as they had flown over the area shortly before the crash. Hiking through snow ranging from knee to chest deep, they eventually came to the rail line that leads to the abandoned lumber town of Spruce. About that time they heard another helicopter overhead and medics being lowered to the crash site. They were tired and it was getting dark, so they decided to build a snow cave and wait until morning to hike back to the crash site.
Meahwhile, a C-130 airplane from Yeager airport in Charleston flew over the area in communication with those on the ground to pinpoint the location of the crash site. Once that was done, first responders from Pocahontas County were able to eventually reach the site and offer aid in the rescue process. The last of the helicopter personnel was brought out late the following morning.
On March 10th, the Navy held a special luncheon in Elkins to honor Pocahontas County first responders for their help in getting the injured personnel out. Then on March 12th, during a ceremony at the statehouse in Charleston, WV Governor Joe Manchin commended the WV National Guard who took part in the rescue ceremony.
Thanks to the Charleston Gazette for the information in this report.