Airmen snatch hiker from Hades’ grip on Mt Olympus

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  • 442d Fighter Wing Public Affairs

There’s a point on any sufficiently tall mountain called the snow line, above which the temperature doesn’t get high enough to fully melt the snow. A group of U.S. Air Force reservists took a day trip to hike above that line on Mount Olympus May 13, 2023, while in Greece as part of NATO exercise Defender 23.

Their decision to go hiking saved a man’s life.

Having hiked up the northern trail and stopped at Spilios Agapitos Refuge at an elevation of 2100 meters, some of the group members stayed for a meal while a few began the trek back down the mountain. A few hundred meters into their descent, Staff Sgt. Amber Carney, a personnelist with the 442d Maintenance Group, and her two companions came upon a pair of hikers. A Spanish woman stood over her husband, Manuel, who lay on the ground, dizzy and unable to stand. She asked them to call 112, the local emergency services number, but none of the three had enough signal to place a call.

Realizing she was able to get a text through, Carney texted Tech. Sgt. Tina Walters, who was not on the mountain. Walters made the call to 112, but the emergency responders informed her that they had to speak with someone on the mountain before they could dispatch a rescue party.

“I was like, I’m not leaving until I know they’re getting help,” Carney said, and sent her friends farther down the mountain to try to get better signal. A short while later, a Greek couple happened upon them and their phones worked. The newcomers called emergency services, who informed them it would take around four hours to get to the scene.

As afternoon turned into evening, Master Sgt. Christopher Yates from the 442d Maintenance Squadron started back down the mountain with Tech. Sgt. Kyle Goodrick, Airman 1st Class Francisco Ambriz, Senior Airman Colin Lancaster, and Senior Airman Justice Hyde from the 358th Fighter Squadron; and Senior Master Sgt. Arthur Woolford from the 442d Medical Squadron.

When they caught up to Carney, they knew they needed to get the downed hiker to safety. They attempted to get him up, but he could neither stand nor sit without vomiting, so they began making plans to use their jackets and walking sticks to improvise a litter.

Meanwhile, emergency services contacted the refuge, and a man named Dionysus trekked down to assess the situation. He radioed back to the Spilios Agapitos and called in two more people< who arrived shortly thereafter with a litter.

Together, they strapped Manuel to the litter and started back up the mountain.

Over the next two hours, Yates, Goodrick, Ambriz, Lancaster, Hyde, Woolford, Manuel’s wife Silvia, and the three Greek rescuers took turns carrying Manuel up the mountain.

“It was ten people coordinating and rotating Manuel to keep his head above his stomach so he didn’t vomit,” Yates said.

At two points, the trail crossed snow-covered passes where the slope led to a drop-off. The team used walking sticks and ski poles to provide traction and pull each other forward as they slogged three-abreast along an icy path just wide enough for one.

“If you slipped on that snow, you’d slide down the mountain,” said Carney.

“And die,” Yates added.

During one of the crossings, Goodrick’s foot punched through the snow and sank up to his knee.

Night had fallen by the time the team made it back to the refuge, and the owners invited the Airmen to stay, since it was too dark to safely climb back down. Manuel

“Despite the language barriers, ten people came together with one goal and made it happen,” Yates said. “Everyone put their own lives at risk. Nobody complained.”

Well, almost nobody. Ambriz, who could understand Manuel’s Spanish told the rest of the team that night in the hostel that Manuel had been trying to tell them to roll him off the side of the litter and leave him.

The next day, Silvia contacted Yates and informed him that Manuel was recovering fine, but had been diagnosed with vertigo. She also said he greatly preferred the ride up to the refuge to the wheeled stretcher that took him back down.