11–12 July 1999: Jerri Lin Nielsen, M.D., a physician at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, self-biopsied a suspicious breast lump. Results were inconclusive, so the National Science Foundation decided to send additional test equipment and medications to the remote station by military transport.
Because of the extreme cold, adverse weather conditions and months of darkness, it was considered too dangerous for an aircraft to attempt landing at the South Pole. A United States Air Force Lockheed C-141B Starlifter of the 62nd Airlift Wing, McChord Air Force Base, Washington, was sent to stage out of Christchurch, New Zealand, in order to air drop the supplies at the South Pole. The mission was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John I. Pray, Jr., U.S. Air Force.
Departing Christchurch at 2154 UTC, 11 July, with six pallets of medical supplies and equipment as well as fresh food and mail for the remote outpost, the C-141 was joined for the flight by a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker from the 203rd Air Refueling Squadron, Hawaii National Guard, for inflight refueling. A refueling took place over McMurdo Station and then the Starlifter headed on toward the Pole.
Amundsen-Scott station personnel set fire to 27 smudge pots arranged in a semi-circle to mark the drop zone, and turned off all outside lighting. When the transport arrived overhead, blowing snow obscured the drop zone and it took the aircrew, flying with night vision goggles, 25 minutes to locate the markers.
At 2230 the C-141 flew over at an altitude of 700 feet (213.4 meters) and dropped two cargo pallets on the first pass and the remaining four on a second. It immediately departed to rendezvous with the KC-135 tanker and both returned to New Zealand.
After a 6,375 mile (10,260 kilometer) round trip, the C-141 touched down at Christchurch at 1225 UTC, 12 July.
Dr. Nielsen’s lump was cancerous. Using the medical supplies that had been air-dropped, she treated herself for the next three months. She was evacuated by air when a Lockheed LC-130H Hercules from the 109th Airlift Wing, New York Air National Guard, picked her up 16 October 1999.
Dr. Nielsen’s cancer eventually metastasized to her liver, bones and brain. Jerri Lin FitzGerald, M.D., died 23 June 2009 at her home in Southwick, Massachusetts.
Her husband, Thomas FitzGerald, said, “She fought bravely, she was able to make the best of what life and circumstance gave her, and she had the most resilience I have ever seen in anyone. She fought hard and she fought valiantly.”
30 October 1991: United States Air Force Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk, 88-26110, call sign “Jolly 110,” assigned to the 106th Rescue Wing, New York Air National Guard, headed out into a hurricane that would become known as “The Perfect Storm,” to attempt a rescue 250 miles (400 kilometers) out to sea. Aboard were Major C. David Ruvola, pilot; Captain Graham Buschor, co-pilot; Staff Sergeant James R. Mioli, flight engineer; and pararescue jumpers Technical Sergeant John Spillane and Technical Sergeant Arden Rick Smith.
Due to the severity of the storm (a weather buoy located 264 miles (425 kilometers) south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, reported a wave height of 100.7 feet (30.7 meters) on 30 October—the highest ever recorded in that part of the Atlantic Ocean) the Pave Hawk crew was unable to make the rescue and had to return to their base. Having already refueled from the Lockheed HC-130 Hercules tanker three times during the mission, and with low fuel, a fourth refueling was needed for the helicopter to make it back to the mainland. Because of the the extreme turbulence and lack of visibility, Jolly 110 could not make contact with the refueling drogue trailing behind the airplane. Major Ruvola made more than 30 attempts, but finally both drogues had been damaged by the severe conditions. With just twenty minutes of fuel remaining, Jolly 110 would have to ditch in the middle of “The Perfect Storm.”
Unable to refuel, Major Ruvola made the decision to ditch the helicopter into the sea while the engines were still running. Finally, at 9:30 p.m., the number one engine flamed out from fuel starvation. Ruvola held the Pave Hawk in a hover over the raging ocean while Buschor, Mioli, Spillane and Smith jumped.
When the number two engine flamed out, Ruvola put the Pave Hawk into a hovering autorotation, its blades coming to a sudden stop when they hit the face of an oncoming wave. Ruvola was about 15 feet (4.6 meters) under water by the time he was able to escape from the sinking helicopter.
The Pave Hawk had gone down 90 miles (145 kilometers) south of Montauk Point in 100-knot (185 kilometers per hour) winds and 80-foot (25 meter) waves. After five hours in the water, four airmen were rescued by USCGC Tamaroa (WMEC-166), a 48-year-old former U.S. Navy fleet tug, operated by the Coast Guard since the end of World War II as a medium endurance cutter.
The search for Rick Smith continued for a week. He was never found.
The U.S. Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawk is medium-sized twin-engine combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) helicopter, developed from the Army UH-60A Black Hawk transport. These helicopters were upgraded with an extendable probe for air-to-air refueling and additional fuel tanks in the cabin and given the project name Credible Hawk. They were further upgraded to the MH-60G Pave Hawk standard which incorporated a system of inertial navigation, GPS and Doppler radar for precision navigation. Low-light television, infrared cameras and night vision systems allowed the MH-60G to operate at night and very low altitude. The Pave Hawk is equipped with an Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS), a very sophisticated autopilot which incorporates automatic hover capability. Some of the MH-60G Pave Hawks received further upgrades for the special operations mission. Helicopters dedicated to CSAR were redesignated HH-60G. A rescue hoist capable of lifting 600 pounds (272 kilograms) from a 200-foot (60.7 meter) hover is incorporated on the upper right side of the fuselage.
The HH-60G is operated by a crew of two pilots, a flight engineer and gunner. For rescue operations, pararescue jumpers, the famous “P.J.s,” are added to the crew. The helicopter has an overall length of 64 feet, 11 inches (19.787 meters) with rotors turning. The fuselage is 49 feet, 10 inches (15.189 meters) long and 7 feet, 9 inches (2.362 meters) wide. Overall height (rotors turning) is 16 feet, 11 inches (5.156 meters).
The fully-articulated main rotor has a diameter of 53 feet, 8 inches (16.358 meters) and turns counterclockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The main rotor turns 258 r.p.m., resulting in a blade tip speed of 725 feet per second (221 meters per second). The four blades have a chord of 1.73 feet (0.527 meters) and 18° negative twist. The blade tips are swept back at a 20° angle. The four-blade tail rotor assembly is mounted on the right side of a pylon in a tractor configuration. The tail rotor plane is inclined 20° to the left to provide approximately 400 pounds of additional lift. The tail rotor turns clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left side. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The tail rotor has a diameter of 11 feet (3.353 meters) and each blade has a chord of 0.81 feet (0.247 meters). The tail rotor has a tip speed of 699 feet per second (213 meters per second).
Power is supplied by two General Electric T700-GE-701C turboshaft engines which are mounted on top of the fuselage on either side of the transmission and main rotor mast. They have a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 1,662 shaft horsepower, each, at Sea Level on a Standard Day. Maximum Power (10 minute limit) is 1,890 shaft horsepower, and the One Engine Inoperative (OEI) rating is 1,940 shaft horsepower (2½ minute limit.) The -701C is 3 feet, 10 inches (1.684 meters) long), 1 foot,3.6 inches (0.396 meters) in diameter and weighs 458 pounds (208 kilograms). The helicopter’s main transmission is rated for a maximum 3,400 horsepower.
The HH-60G has a cruise speed of 184 miles per hour (296 kilometers per hour) and its maximum speed is 224 miles per hour (361 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 14,000 feet (4,267 meters) and maximum range is 373 miles (600 kilometers). The hover ceiling, in ground effect (HIGE) is approximately 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and out of ground effect (HOGE) is about 6,000 feet (1,830 meters).
Defensive armament consists of two GAU-18A .50-caliber machine guns.
The U.S. Air Force initially purchased 112 HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, though as of May 2016, 96 remain in service. Most of these are approaching their design airframe lifetime limit of 7,000 flight hours and several have surpassed that by as much as 3,000 hours. There are plans to replace them with a new HH-60W, a combat rescue helicopter based on the Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk. Currently, 21 U.S. Army UH-60Ls are being modified to replace HH-60G losses. The next version, the HH-60W, based on the Sikorsky UH-60M, is expected to enter the U.S. Air Force inventory by March 2020.