17th AS assists S.C. National Guard in locating downed Black Hawk

A U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilots assigned to 2-238th General Support Aviation Battalion, S.C. Army National Guard, sling-load a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from 1-171st General Support Aviation Battalion, S.C. Army National Guard. after the Black Hawk made an emergency landing in an open field Dec. 3, 2014, near Columbia, S.C., due to a main rotor blade malfunction. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Brian Calhoun)

A U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilots assigned to 2-238th General Support Aviation Battalion, S.C. Army National Guard, sling-load a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from 1-171st General Support Aviation Battalion, S.C. Army National Guard. after the Black Hawk made an emergency landing in an open field Dec. 3, 2014, near Columbia, S.C., due to a main rotor blade malfunction. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Brian Calhoun)

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- What began as a local training mission for an aircrew from the 17th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., quickly turned into a search for a downed helicopter.

When Maj. Matthew Scheulen and Capt. Nicholas Coblio, 17th AS pilots, climbed into the cockpit of their C-17 Globemaster III, on Dec. 3, 2014, they were prepared for a mission that included an aerial refueling, an assault landing and airdrop training. What the crew was not prepared for was that they would soon be called upon to assist in the search for a downed South Carolina National Guard Blackhawk helicopter.

"Around the time of the incident, we had just completed our airdrop training and were preparing to land [at North Field] to pick up our passengers." said Scheulen.

According to Scheulen, aircrews listen to a number of radio frequencies while flying, and one of those is the Columbia Approach Control when operating locally. It was on this frequency the aircrew heard a call go out.

"We heard a South Carolina National Guard helicopter calling in with some in-flight malfunctions," said Scheulen. "We offered to assist in any way possible, but at that time our assistance wasn't needed."

But shortly after that initial call, Scheulen and his crew heard a much different transmission go out over the radio.

"We heard the helicopter pilot make a radio call with a very different tone of voice; that he would not be able to make it to an airport and was 'going down' in a field near a highway,"  said Scheulen.  "We again offered our assistance and this time Columbia Approach Control gave us an immediate vector to his last known position."

After 30 to 40 minutes, the aircrew, along with another aircraft in the area, located the helicopter at the same time.

"From overhead, it looked like the helicopter hit quite hard, digging a trench in the field ... but no debris or fire," Scheulen said. "As we were departing the area, after we were no longer needed, we overheard from another S.C. National Guard helicopter that the crew was okay, which of course was a relief to us."

According to the S.C. National Guard, the UH-60 Black Hawk, assigned to Detachment 2, Company F, 1-171st General Support Aviation Battalion, made an emergency landing after experiencing a main rotor blade malfunction.

While first responders were en route to the landing site, the S.C. National Guard brought in another helicopter to airlift the helicopter crew out of the area.

"They were able to quickly identify the crash site by identifying our aircraft circling overhead," said Scheulen.  

C-17 aircrews do not typically receive search and rescue training, so Scheulen and his crew had to rely on their combined experiences to complete this unexpected mission.

"Our entire crew was highly experienced in a number of different aircraft, and looking back on it, I was almost surprised at how quickly and seamlessly everyone just made it happen," said Scheulen.  "Even without any truly formal training for something like this we came up with a plan and executed it well."