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Bristow Aids Dramatic Glacier Rescue in Alaska

July 13, 2012

When a teenage tourist fell into a crevasse while hiking on the Worthington Glacier near Valdez, Alaska, it sparked a rescue effort that made headlines around the world. A call from the state police gave Bristow and pilot Mike Wood an opportunity to assist in the successful mission.

Russell Gould, Global Fleet Support Manager

The teenager was trapped more than 50 feet down in the crevasse, clothes ripped away in the fall and enduring “skin on ice” contact for several hours as rescue teams from the Valdez Fire Department tried to free him. When the state police contacted Bristow’s base in nearby Glenallen, Mike was ready to answer the call.

“Like other operators in Alaska, we don’t hesitate to get involved when asked,” Mike says. “Our knowledge of the terrain and weather conditions can help increase survivability when the window of opportunity is small.”

“If I needed a helicopter to evacuate me, he’s the one I would want piloting. He made some passes to assess the terrain and wind, then went right to work helping to save that young man’s life.”
– Steve Revis, photographer, Valdez Star

Arriving on the scene
While the rescue teams make repeated attempts to free the victim 2,400 feet up the glacier, Mike picks up emergency medical technician Shaun Brown in a parking lot at the glacier’s base and heads up the frozen slope. “It was too steep to land in the ice where the victim was located and the glacier run-off in that area was tremendous,” he says.

Mike located a spot 800 feet away that was safe for shutdown and loading, and the victim, who was more than six feet tall and weighed about 250 pounds, was eventually freed by responders who had to rappel into the crevasse. After being lowered to the aircraft via sled, a quick flight down the glacier brought the semi-conscious teen to a waiting ambulance.

“Thompson Pass, which the glacier flows into and is the main route into Valdez, is known for bad weather,” says Mike, a native of Britain who can trace his helicopter roots to an encouraging word from company founder Alan Bristow in the 1970s. “We could have tried it but decided it would be better to use the ambulance.”

A photographer’s perspective
Steve Revis, a photographer for the Valdez Star newspaper, witnessed the rescue operation and came away impressed with Mike’s flying skills.

“I don’t spend much time around aircraft, but what I saw that day I found amazing. Your pilot performed skillfully and very professionally, under far less than perfect conditions,” he says. “If I needed a helicopter to evacuate me, he’s the one I would want piloting. He made some passes to assess the terrain and wind, then went right to work helping to save that young man’s life.”

Mike’s career with Bristow Alaska goes back to 1997 and he’s currently providing services related to the Alaska Pipeline. The victim is expected to make a complete recovery.