Hawaii-based Medevac Unit Makes Risky Journey to Save Man's Life-Special to Hawaii Reporter from Iraq

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    ‘Photo above: Chief Warrant Officer Steven Conway’

    Kirkuk, Iraq–Facing extremely low visibility and bad weather, a Medevac crew from the Hawaii-based 25th Combat Aviation Brigade completed a dangerous mission on Jan. 13, in an attempt to save the life of a U.S. Army soldier serving at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Warrior, near Kirkuk.


    After suffering a stroke under non-combat conditions, the man, whose name has been withheld, was flown to Joint-Base Balad. From there he was transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC), Germany, and then to Walter Reed Memorial Hospital after physicians at LRMC determined they could not treat the patient there.

    The call for urgent medevac services came in at 10:25 p.m. last Wednesday, but there were doubts about whether or not the flight should be made due to extreme weather conditions.

    “James Johnson UH-60 Blackhawk medevac helicopter Centered”

    “Conditions were right on the margin of what we consider red, which means unsafe to fly at all,” said Air Force Col. Steve Lamb, a flight surgeon. “I said I think we need to send this guy. There was a 70 percent chance [the patient] would not survive.”

    An experienced crew was granted special permission to perform the mission. The crew was made up of four members of the 3-25th Aviation Regiment of the 25th CAB, Sgt. Jeffrey Ingram, Sgt. Michael Fezer, Medical Evaluation Pilot Benjamin Singleton, and Steven Conway, the pilot in command.

    “I could hear tension, because there was no radio contact for a while,” said Lamb, describing the flight. “There were some problems I know–they had a lot to deal with. Medically, there were some minor adjustments which had to be made, but it was a fairly uneventful flight. I’m glad we had some good guys up front.”

    During the flight, visibility was reduced to a quarter mile at times, with a flight altitude ceiling of 300 ft. The crew relied on instruments to avoid high wires in the area and other man-made structures.

    “A lot of course deviations were made,” said Conway, in a statement about the flight. “Due to the urgency of the patient, the flight continued.”

    Eventually, the decision was made to fly at an increased altitude, which due to decreased oxygen levels, could have had a negative effect on the patient. Adding to the complicated situation, the vital signs monitor ceased to function, requiring quick action to restore the equipment so that the medics could continue care. The flight landed at Balad at 1:00 a.m., approximately 90 minutes after takeoff.

    The flight almost didn’t happen. Under normal flight rules, the visibility and flight ceiling conditions faced would have grounded all flights. A special request had to be made to approve the flight. Conway and his crew did not wait for permission to be granted before preparing the helicopter for the mission.

    Because of the conditions, only one Medevac helicopter was directed to make the flight, a departure from a long-standing policy that at least two aircraft are involved in each mission.

    “We’ve got some great Army heroes here, and I’m proud to work with them,” said Lamb.

    ‘Photos and report by James Johnson, a Hawaii Reporter journalist embedded in Iraq. Reach him at mailto:jkenii@hotmail.com/’