Search and rescue safety

Snow is falling, temperatures are dropping and winter is in full swing.

Photo courtesy of Tab Burnett.

Although beautiful, winter can pose some hidden dangers often overlooked by those getting outside.

One of those dangers when hiking or exploring in the winter is an avalanche.

Three people died in Alaska during the 2017-2018 season as a result of an avalanche, according to

Another ten were stranded in Hatcher Pass after an avalanche covered the road, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

Mitigating the risk of an accident is the best way to prevent one.

An Alaska Air National Guard HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter, assigned to the 210th Rescue Squadron, takes off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, July 23, 2015. The 210th Rescue Squadron provides emergency rescue services for the citizens of Alaska in addition to training for wartime combat search and rescue missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Alejandro Pena)

“The most common accidents occur when a plan is not implemented,” Landon Bryan, a helicopter pilot for the National Guard, said.

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There are a few critical steps you can take to avoid an accident or, at the very least, help facilitate a rescue should it be required, Bryan said.

“Tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back, have a beacon or GPS device and follow the three-strike rule,” he said.

Weather can also have a dramatic effect on the Guard’s ability to perform a rescue.

“You should be prepared to spend the night; if weather conditions deteriorate, it could be awhile before we can rescue you,” he said.

This is especially important during winter months when days are short and darkness falls sooner.

The Alaska State Troopers also perform search and rescue missions but are somewhat limited in their rescue timeframe.

“We don’t fly at night, so if an emergency occurs during the evening hours, it could be a lot longer before a rescue can be made,” Tab Burnett, a helicopter pilot for the Alaska State Troopers, said.

“Along with a plan, if you’re doing anything in the backcountry, you should have some kind of basic first aid or medical training,” he said.

“If you can stabilize an injured person, the chances of survival during a rescue increase exponentially,” he said.

Winter presents a unique set of challenges; however, with the proper preparation, accidents can be mitigated and lives saved.