The crew with Two Bear Air search and rescue completed a milestone recently with its 2,200th hoist operation, an achievement the team carried out over the past 18 months through a combination of rescue missions and training exercises.
Already this year, crews have carried out nearly 30 rescue missions. On Memorial Day weekend, the crews rescued a man who had been lost in the rugged, snowy mountains of the North Fork for 56 hours, barefoot and without cell reception.
On June 27, they rescued a climber in Glacier National Park who’d fallen 600 feet, landing at the bottom of a waterfall and coming to rest just above a sheer vertical drop.
Miraculously, he survived. But then, Two Bear has been performing miracles small and large since its inception in 2012.
“We believe that proficiency is the key to success,” said Jim Pierce, Two Bear’s chief pilot. “Safety is our number one concern and is one of the reasons we train to the extent we do. We don’t want to come across anything on a rescue mission that we haven’t seen or performed in training.”
Most of the hoists have occurred in training, but the demand on Two Bear Air has been high from the beginning. Two Bear’s certification classes last two weeks and require between 350 and 400 hoists per class.
“I tell people that I would prefer to see them for the first time in a training environment than an actual rescue mission,” Pierce said. “I know that if they can understand what we have to offer and a general idea of what to expect, the success of the mission is greatly enhanced.”
The helicopter of choice is the Bell 429, which has the power and room required for Two Bear’s operations, and is equipped with infrared technology to locate victims in the dead of night.
In its first year, the Two Bear crew performed 1,780 hoists with the Bell 429.
Search and rescue responses are rising steadily in the region – Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry said last year there were more than 400 calls – but the efficiency of the Flathead Valley’s suite of search and rescue responders is keeping pace as one of the best in the Pacific Northwest.
That’s due in large part to the addition of the Bell 429, a philanthropic contribution to the community by Mike Goguen, who supports all costs of the operation, with zero cost to taxpayers.
It’s not uncommon for Two Bear to fly 200-plus nautical miles to get to a rescue, at an altitude that ranges from 2,000 feet MSL (mean sea level) up to 13,000 feet, with a coverage area of approximately 60,000 square miles.
“Some people ask what our coverage area is and we tell them it is anywhere we are needed,” Pierce said.