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By Dan Rudy 

Successful rescue of skiers stranded on Harding Glacier

 


A pair of skiers were successfully rescued Tuesday afternoon, after being stranded on a glacier for four days.

Jennifer Neyman, 36, of Wrangell, and Soldotna resident Christopher Hanna, 45, had been dropped off by airplane on the Kenai Peninsula's expansive Harding Ice Fields for a day trip on April 8. The weather took a turn for the worse, preventing the pilot from picking up the two.

“They were going to be picked up well before dark and the weather turned,” explained Barb Neyman, Jennifer's mother.

Though only planning on a day trip, the two had still come prepared with a tent, supplies and communication devices. Neyman said her daughter was an experienced cross-country skier – Jennifer had actually taken first place in the “Ski Kincaid All Night” competition in 2014, going without sleep for a 24-hour period to complete 111 miles.

Alaska State Troopers reported that Hanna and Neyman were able to keep in touch with a friend using their cell phones, letting them know their tent had been shredded by high winds and snow, and that supplies were running low.

The Seward AST received a report the afternoon of April 9 that the skiers were stranded on Bear Glacier, and contacted the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center of the 11th Air Force for assistance. Located at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, the Alaska RCC operates around the clock, aiding search and rescue efforts across the state and surrounding region.

In an interview provided by the Alaska National Guard Public Affairs office, senior mission controller Capt. John Romspert explained the RRC was unable to assist at that time due to continued bad weather on the glacier. Conditions remained unfavorable throughout Sunday, with zero visibility and winds of up to 30 knots.

“To kind of give you an example it would be like flying an airplane in a ping pong ball or a snowglobe,” Romspert said.

A search was planned for first light on Monday, and two HC-130 King and three HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters were deployed.

With the 176th Wing's 210th Rescue Squadron, a Pave Hawk was able to set down a Guardian Angel pararescue team from the 212th RQS about 15 miles away. The team began the overland trek toward Neyman and Hanna with enough supplies for themselves and the two stranded travelers.

A Pave Hawk helicopter did spot the skiers' makeshift shelter during a fly-over, because of the skis they posted at its entry. However, the HH-60 was unable to land due to continued bad weather. The ground team continued on in case the weather did not clear.

The weather cleared on Tuesday afternoon, and at approximately 12:10 p.m., a Pave Hawk helicopter was able to land on the glacier. Pararescuemen on board were able to get to Hanna and Neyman and transport them to Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna for evaluation. The two were reportedly in good condition.

“Thank you so much to those rescue people,” Barb Neyman said after receiving word her daughter was safe. She was particularly grateful both to the Air National Guard and to its ground crew for their efforts.

 

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