NAS Whidbey helicopter crew ‘definitely saved my life,’ then returned to save another

Snowmobilers rescued after separate crashes on slopes of Mount Baker

A helicopter rescue crew from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station drops onto Schriebers Meadow to rescue two snowmobilers injured in separate accidents on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019.
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A helicopter rescue crew from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station drops onto Schriebers Meadow to rescue two snowmobilers injured in separate accidents on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019.

Silvana resident Kirk LeDoux says he’d like to treat a Naval Air Station Whidbey Island Search and Rescue helicopter crew to a steak dinner and some beers.

After the day they had Sunday, he’s probably not alone.

The helicopter crew hoisted and rescued not one, but two snowmobile riders who suffered broken legs in separate accidents near Schriebers Meadow south of the Mount Baker summit.

“Those guys definitely saved my life,” said LeDoux, who was the first of the two injured riders to be hoisted from the Mount Baker Wilderness and transported to St. Joseph hospital.

LeDoux, 39, who said that he has been riding snowmobiles since he was 10 and visits the Schriebers Meadow area west of Baker Lake at least once a week during the winter, said he was riding through a gully Sunday morning.

“The snow was real inconsistent — some powder areas, some mostly powder areas and some patches that were icy,” LeDoux told The Bellingham Herald. “I was going over this jump into a gully, and the snowmobile kind of rotated over and snapped my leg. It was a freak accident.”

LeDoux said he suffered a compound fracture of his lower right tibia, and could see the bone sticking out as he sat in the snow.

Making matters worse, locator beacons that he and his friends had brought along on the ride weren’t functioning properly. Fortunately, they were able to get cell service to contact rescue agencies. Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Kevin Hester said that call came in at approximately 11 a.m.

“The neat thing is, of course my two buddies helped, but there were about a dozen other people up there that I didn’t know that really jumped in,” LeDoux told The Herald. “Some guy held my head for a couple of hours and somebody drove my truck back. I’m really grateful for their help.”

But the heroes of the day, LeDoux said, were definitely the NAS Whidbey helicopter crew.

“Those guys were spot on,” LeDoux said. “It was a real technical rescue. They had to rappel down into the gully, then they hooked me up and hoisted me out. ... They did an outstanding job. I had the compound fracture with the bone sticking out, I was in shock, hypothermic and bleeding and the weather was coming in, but they handled it all. It was pretty nerve racking, because those big helicopters put out a lot of wind, but I had this feeling that I was truly being rescued.”

Once he was safely on board the helicopter, the crew whisked LeDoux to Bellingham, and, as they were wheeling him into the emergency room, told him “We gotta go — we’ve got another call.”

Turns out, the crew was headed back up to the Schriebers Meadow area, where a call for a second injured snowmobile rider had come in at about 2 p.m. This time they lifted a 45-year-old Carnation man, Hester said. He also was transported to St. Joseph hospital with what was believed to be a broken leg.

The two rescues were made less than a mile apart, NAS Whidbey Island Public Affairs Specialist Thomas Mills told The Herald.

LeDoux, who is a licensed commercial pilot who flies for Kenmore Air and does some bush flying as part of his real estate business, got a second ride on an airlift to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle so that a specialist could surgically repair his leg.

“I’ve got a bunch of metal in my leg now,” LeDoux said of the titanium rod that now runs inside his tibia from his ankle to his knee.

But thanks to the NAS Whidbey crew, both he and another rider have a story to tell.

“It was some really vertical terrain — the video doesn’t do it justice,” LeDoux said of the rescue. “Those guys were amazing. They knew exactly what they were doing.”

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.