Military operation needed to rescue woman on remote island near Russia

The critically ill pregnant woman lives in a tiny village just miles from the U.S. and Russian border.


On a small Alaskan island just two miles from the Russian border, members of Alaska’s Air National Guard rescued a critically ill pregnant woman using a medical helicopter. 

While it’s not uncommon these days for helicopters to be used for medical evacuations, the terrain, weather, and overall conditions made this one more difficult. 

The island of Little Diomede does not have an airfield capable of accommodating a fixed-wing aircraft, the Air National Guard said. Officials also said that sea fog made it impossible for a civilian medical helicopter to land on the island. 

With options limited, military officials said they used a HH-60G Pave Hawk combat search and rescue helicopter to perform the airlift. 

Officials said the helicopter traveled a straight-line distance of nearly 600 nautical miles and longer when flying through mountain passes. Because of the distance, a separate aircraft was required to refuel the helicopter multiple times in the air.

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“We were actively working with the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson flight surgeons as well as coordinating with doctors in Nome to help the pararescuemen make a quick medical assessment of the patient,” Alaska Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Jacob Inman said. 

The Guard said both aircraft had “Guardian Angel teams comprising combat rescue officers and pararescuemen. 

“Guardian Angels are highly trained paramedics skilled in air-to-ground rescue operations,” the Guard said.

Officials said they transported the woman to a Nome, Alaska, hospital, located 130 miles from Little Diomede Island. Her condition is unknown. 

The town of Diomede, which is on the west coast of Little Diomede Island, has a listed population of 82 by the U.S. Census. The town sits just 2.5 miles from Big Diomede Island, which is controlled by Russia. The International Date Line sits in between the two islands.