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Five Rescued from JBER Mudflats After Off-Roading Goes Wrong

By Austin Baird, Political, Rural Reporter, abaird@ktuu.com
Published On: Oct 21 2013 05:04:38 PM AKDT
Updated On: Oct 21 2013 07:00:31 PM AKDT
Anchorage Mudflats

Creative Commons (Flickr/Frank Kovalchek)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -

Mudding on the mudflats is a bad idea.

A husband and wife learned why when they ended up a little too far off road this Saturday.

The couple was driving a Jeep along and alongside Route Bravo Road on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, until they slipped onto the silty mudflats at the base's edge and got stuck.

Sgt. Edward Eagerton, an Army National Guard spokesperson, said the area is off limits for reasons beneath the mud.

"They were also in a munitions impact area, so there are unexploded ordnance in the area," Eagerton said. "No one's supposed to be back there noodling around in their off-road vehicles."

Decades ago, before the Environmental Protection Agency cracked down on how military bases affect the environment, that stretch of beach was routinely barraged with artillery, Eagerton said. There is a constant risk of detonating unexploded devices.

But the couple had no idea they were sitting atop a shuttered munitions range. Neither did their friends, who responded to a plea for help posted on Facebook. The would-be rescuers arrived with their 5-year-old in tow and tried to pull the Jeep to safety.

They got stuck slightly father up the shore from their friends.

And then the tide rolled in.

High tide hit at 8 p.m. and peaked at 30 feet, easily enough to cover the first Jeep and just what it took for waves to start pouring into the windows of the second vehicle.

Rescuers initially considered backing out for the night and returning with explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) personnel in the morning.

"But the 5-year-old boy began showing signs of hypothermia, and we knew we had to get them out of there,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Richard Matteson, who led the rescue.

Just before 10 p.m., the Rescue Coordination Center accepted a request for support from the Alaska State Troopers.

The 210th Rescue Squadron launched a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter with two guardian angels from the 212th Rescue Squadron just after 11 p.m.

The four adults and child were hoisted into the helicopter and transported to a hospital on base. Everyone rescued was released without injury, and the abandoned vehicles have been towed from the flats without incident.

Identities of those rescued were not revealed by the Army, and Eagerton said it is unclear who in the group was a soldier but that they "obviously had access" to JBER.

Eagerton encouraged anyone in a situation where they need to be rescued to call trained professionals rather than well-meaning friends.

"They called some friends, thinking they could tow them out, but they took for granted just how dangerous the mudflats can be," he said.