Weekend Medevac in King Cove Highlights Critical Need for Road to Cold Bay Airport

February 17, 2014

King Cove, AK – Feb. 17, 2014 – A 63 year-old King Cove woman remains in critical condition in an Anchorage hospital following a dangerous Coast Guard medevac over the weekend during gale-force winds and blizzard conditions. King Cove Mayor Henry Mack says the patient, who is his sister-in-law, is being treated for a heart virus, pneumonia and the flu. 

“Not only was my sister-in-law’s life in danger, but so were the four lives of the Coast Guard personnel who landed in King Cove Friday night (Feb. 14, 2014) to medevac her out to Cold Bay,” said Mayor Mack. “My wife and I are close to my sister-in-law. For family members and EMS personnel, it’s stressful wondering if the Coast Guard is even going to be able to make it in.”

After an assessment and discussing the situation with an emergency room doctor in Anchorage, health care workers at the King Cove clinic determined the patient was in heart failure and needed to be treated at an Anchorage hospital as soon as possible.

“I didn’t think there was any way that the patient could be safely medevaced out, given the weather conditions,” said clinic physician’s assistant Katie Eby.

The Coast Guard decided to launch one of its MH60 Jayhawk helicopter from Cold Bay at about 5:15 p.m.

King Cove Fire Chief Chris Babcock said at the time, winds were gusting to about 70 miles per hour with whiteout conditions at the airstrip.

“I’ve done so many dog-gone medevacs, I can’t even count them all. But this was probably one of the worst ones I’ve seen as far as the weather was concerned,” Babcock said. “When the helicopter made it in, we didn’t even know it was there until we heard the props and suddenly it was alongside of us. As we were sitting next to the helicopter in the ambulance, the winds were making it bounce on the ground.” 

The patient was quickly transferred to the helicopter. The Coast Guard returned to the Cold Bay Airport at 7:22 p.m. Guardian Flight then transported the patient to an Anchorage Hospital.

“If we had a road (connecting King Cove to the Cold Bay Airport), the clinic health providers could have immediately loaded my sister-in-law into an ambulance and headed to Cold Bay instead of agonizing over whether the Coast Guard was going to be able to make it in,” said Mayor Mack.

Just two months ago, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell rejected a massive land swap (56,000 acres from the State and the King Cove Corporation) in exchange for access to a small single-lane gravel road corridor (206 acres). That road corridor would have connected the remote community to the all-weather Cold Bay Airport for emergency medical issues and quality of life reasons. The fishing community is accessible only by small plane or boat, weather-permitting.

“Every day that I go to work, I think to myself, is this the day that we’re going to lose one of our community members?” Eby said. “We were so lucky that the Coast Guard was able to get in and transport this patient.”

“I couldn’t help thinking about the insensitive decision Secretary Jewell made,” said King Cove Mayor Henry Mack. She (Secretary Jewell) doesn’t realize how many lives are affected by just one medevac and the danger that places them in. It puts so much stress on our entire community, the Coast Guard and the health providers in King Cove who are struggling to save lives.”