Arkansas National Guard rescues stranded Boy Scouts

Arkansas National Guard rescues stranded Boy Scouts

~ Eight stranded due to heavy flooding in Ouachita National Forest

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Ark.- A helicopter and crew from the Arkansas Army National Guard found and rescued a group of six Boy Scouts and their two adult leaders from a remote area of the Ouachita National Forest in southwest Arkansas this morning.

The Boy Scout group from Louisiana had been on a weekend camping trip when heavy rains and storms across the state caused flooding of area streams and cut the group off from their trailhead. The rugged terrain, heavy weather and dense forest also cut them off from any type of communication signal to contact authorities or families.

The Guard helicopter piloted by Chief Warrant Officer David Specht and co-piloted by Chief Warrant Officer Todd Adams was requested around 3 p.m. on Monday, May 2, to support a search operation by local law enforcement officials near the Albert Pike Camp Ground in Montgomery County. Inclement weather and heavy rains had hampered search operations and deterred helicopter flights through the mountainous area.

The Guard crew consulted weather information and saw that rains and high winds were to clear the search area late in the evening on Monday, so they opted to do a late night search using night vision equipment and the helicopter’s array of sensors to locate the stranded campers. After locating the team of scouts, the Guard crew dropped two military duffle bags containing food, water, blankets, ponchos, flashlights and a communications radio to sustain the team until morning because it was too dangerous to attempt a landing in the heavily wooded are in the dark.

After refueling and waiting for daylight, the Guard crew returned to the site where they campers were just before 7 a.m. on Tuesday, and found a very narrow landing site along a stream and were able to pick up the campers and their gear and reunite them with some family members waiting at the search area command center.

Specht said the most difficult portion of the rescue was finding a location near the scouts to land the helicopter. “Getting in to them was tough. We had to snake down into a narrow area right along a stream and try to stay out of the water at the same time,” said Specht.

The crewmen said the rewarding part of the mission was getting the campers out to reunite with their families who were very anxious, since they had not had contact with the missing scouts since Saturday.

“I was pretty nervous when we first touched down, not knowing what the fate of any of the scouts were. if any were injured or worse. Of course you never want anything to happen to kids if it can be prevented. So I felt a lot better when we made contact with one of the leaders and he gave us the thumbs up,” said Adams.

Specht, who has been flying with the National Guard for over 16 years, said this was not his first rescue mission, however it was the first time he had actually flown a rescue mission where he picked up individuals. “Normally we don’t do the pick up. Instead we guide ground crews in to the location to do the rescue and move people to safety. This situation was unique because the water had cut them off from any kind of ground movement,” Specht said.

“We fly a lot together, so that helps us know what each other is thinking and doing when we get in tight spots and situations that require us to communicate precisely on what we each need to do to maneuver the aircraft safely,” said Adams.

Once the mission was complete Guard officials reviewed the video of the mission and lauded both Specht and Adams for their skill and precision in operating their LUH-72 helicopter in the narrow recesses of the stream clearing in order to pick up the stranded scouts.