MONTGOMERY – A team from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s Aviation Unit on Saturday, March 7, rescued a paraglider who was stranded in a tree near Gurley for approximately four hours.
ALEA personnel train regularly for various types of search and rescue operations, but ALEA Cpl. Kent Smith said this type of rescue was different from operations they have experienced thus far. As they flew from ALEA’s Montgomery hangar in the agency’s Bell UH-1H (Huey) helicopter, the four-person crew team discussed possible scenarios and options.
“He was about 70 feet off the ground, hanging on to a tree limb estimated to be about 4 inches in diameter. He still had his parachute attached to his back, which made it much more challenging and required several attempts to extract him,” said Cpl. Smith, the mission’s tactical flight officer/hoist operator.
During such missions, positioning is key, and a distance of 2 to 3 feet can make a huge difference, Cpl. Smith said. Tactical Flight Officer Wayne Barlow used hand signals to communicate with the crew inside the Huey to ensure he was in proper position to make physical contact with the stranded paraglider. Prior to the fourth and final attempt, before TFO Barlow was lowered again, ALEA’s rescue crew re-evaluated the mission and found solutions for the challenges this situation presented. After determining the paraglider’s harness was sufficient for a safe extraction, the TFO asked the victim for his approval to attach the Huey’s rescue line to his Class 3 harness. The man approved and, within seconds, was lifted up and pulled into the helicopter.
The pilot immediately flew to a nearby field to meet fire medics prepared to transport the man by utility vehicle to awaiting emergency medical personnel. It was a multi-agency team effort, Cpl. Smith said, including ALEA Aviation’s Assistant Chief Pilot Shane Hobbs and Tactical Flight Officer Dave Williams, as well as first responders on the ground from Gurley Police Department, Huntsville Fire & Rescue and Huntsville Emergency Medical Services Inc.
Cpl. Smith said once the man was safely pulled into the Huey, he expressed his gratitude and relief. “He was high fiving, fist bumping and hugging everybody,” he said.