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Icemen save six mushers, 89 dogs from snowstorm

(From left) Lt. Col. Dave Looney, Staff Sgt. Mike Sullivan and Maj. Bill Kupchin accept thanks on Thursday, June 1, 2006, from three of the 89 dogs they rescued during the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race in February. The dogs and six mushers were stranded at Eagle Summit during a snowstorm. Colonel Looney and Sergeant Sullivan are with the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing at Kulis ANG Base in Anchorage.  Major Kupchin is commander of Det. 1 of the 210th Rescue Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo)

(From left) Lt. Col. Dave Looney, Staff Sgt. Mike Sullivan and Maj. Bill Kupchin accept thanks on Thursday, June 1, 2006, from three of the 89 dogs they rescued during the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race in February. The dogs and six mushers were stranded at Eagle Summit during a snowstorm. Colonel Looney and Sergeant Sullivan are with the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing at Kulis ANG Base in Anchorage. Major Kupchin is commander of Det. 1 of the 210th Rescue Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. (U.S. Air Force photo)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- As Sammy sat atop Eagle Summit in February, stranded due to a snowstorm centered on that leg of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, he may have wondered to himself, “How did I get myself into this mess, and more importantly, how am I going to get myself out?” 

Luckily, Iceman Team members answered that question for him. Members of the 210th Rescue Squadron, Det. 1, rescued Sammy and his associates from the summit, braving rough terrain and inclement weather to ensure the race participants compete another day. 

At an appreciation ceremony at the 210th RQS June 1, Sammy thanked the aircrew that saved him with hearty handshakes and appreciative face licks. 

Sammy was one of 89 dogs that were rescued by the 210th RQS that day, in addition to six mushers who were also stranded. Members of the Yukon Quest board of directors presented the 210th RQS with a shadow box in appreciation of their efforts. 

“We’re honored by the gesture of thanks,” said Maj. Bill Kupchin, 210th RQS, Det. 1 commander. “It’s a rare opportunity to participate in a mission like this and I’m proud to have been a part of it.” 

The 210th’s rescue efforts were bolstered by support from rescue specialists out of the 176th Wing, Kulis Air National Guard Base, in Anchorage. Lt. Col. Dave Looney, 176th Wing flight safety officer and pilot of the HH-60 Pavehawk that made the rescue, said the mission is surely one he’ll never forget. 

“We’re definitely competitive within the squadron for cool missions,” said Colonel Looney. “So when we came back from this one, we just kind of said ‘ha ha’ to our squadron mates.” 

Aliy Zirkle, owner of several of the rescued dogs, thanked the aircrew for their efforts.
“The rescue was very emotional,” she said. “These dogs are the heart and soul of the race and the racers, and it means the world to have them back safe.” 

Colonel Looney had a moment to find humor in the rescue when he peered back to the cabin and found a dog standing on the instrument console staring back at him. 

“We had about 25 dogs in there on one trip,” he said. “We basically had to load them, close the door and then stuff them through the window. One of them apparently got fed up and wandered towards the front of the cockpit to see if he could get some breathing room.” 

Colonel Looney politely patted his curious visitor on the head and ushered him back to the general dog population waiting area. After toughing out waits as long as 24 hours, all 89 dogs and all six mushers returned home safely. 

Major Kupchin put the rescue mission into perspective for the ceremony crowd.
“Between Colonel Looney and me, we must have about 8,000 flight hours and 200-plus missions,” he said. “I think I can honestly say that this mission will always be one of our most rewarding.”