Marine Corps Air Station Search and Rescue
Although their primary mission is to look after the safety of military personnel in the extensive training ranges, the Marines and sailors of Yuma's Marine Corps Air Station Search and Rescue (SAR) also assist the civilian population in times of need.
"Our mission is to focus on a situation gone bad, safety precaution is an individual's responsibility," Capt. Sean Mitzel, Headquarters Squadron operations officer said.
On the average, SAR will conduct 30 rescue operations per year and have already completed five this year. During winter, most of their attention is focused on coming to the aid of off-road vehicle operators in the Imperial Sand Dunes.
According to Mitzel, most accident victims are those who overextend themselves by not assessing their own capabilities. This is the basis of nearly all accidents. But for most who get injured in the dunes, it is because of riding too fast or being intoxicated. To avoid hazards it is best to plan ahead, and for every individual to know their limitations, he said.
While there is no single accident season in Yuma, the site of most accidents changes to the Colorado River during the summer, Mitzel said. But on the river, it is boaters and those using tubes who occasionally find themselves in need of assistance and most often it is for overexposure and dehydration. There are a lot of seasonal users from out of town, but it is residents and visitors alike who sometimes take on more than they can handle.
"We work with state, local and federal agencies, but mostly with the Imperial and Yuma County Sheriff's Offices," Mitzel said. "They have protocol and they contact us when they need assistance."
Over the last few years SAR has seen a slight decrease in accidents, not because the situation is any safer but because of the help they get from the air ambulance rescue crews, said Staff Sgt. Michael De Le Ree, a HH-1N helicopter crew chief.
Air ambulances are now making point-of-entry pickups that are simpler to do. SAR frequently gets called in when a climber has fallen into a ravine and a corpsman needs to make a "technical rescue," rappelling down a mountain with medical gear in his pack to tend to a victim.
De Le Ree has been in the Marines for 13 years and he arrived at MCAS from Camp Pendelton. He grew up in Phoenix, so he was already acclimated to the weather. And he said he likes Yuma.
"It definitely feels good when you make a technical rescue," De Le Ree said. "It's not the easiest thing to pull off, so when you complete it, it's a good feeling."
Helicopters are equipped with a hoist but not all victims can be immediately evacuated. Sometimes SAR must perform a short haul, lifting the victim to flat ground before securing the victim for flight. Nearly 99 percent of victims are transported to Yuma Regional Medical Center, he said.
No matter how much experience a Marine may have, once they begin with SAR, they must start with SAR-specific training because it is a different kind of flying with different responsibilities for the crew. SAR crews are four-men units including a pilot, co-pilot, crew chief and corpsman. If all goes well, SAR training is completed within six months.
There are about 30 Marines and sailors who maintain, fly and support the SAR crews, Mitzel said. SAR is broke down by region: inland, marine and overseas, and the MCAS crew works the inland region, coordinating with state, federal and volunteers crews all across the country.
"We also handle firefighting capabilities, dousing fires from the air," Mitzel said. "I very much enjoy the challenge and diversity of the missions. We are a self-contained unit and can provide immediate life-saving capabilities."
William Roller can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6858.