Thursday, March 1, 2018

Pilots who saved Nisky hikers recognized with new state award

State Police pilots Technical Sgt. Brian D. Rumrill, far left, and Technical Lt. Peter R. McLain, far right, are honored on February 28, 2018, with the Lifesaving Award for the Adirondack mountain rescue of Madison Popolizio and Blake Alois. 

Two State Police pilots who navigated around a fierce winter storm to pluck a pair of stranded hikers off an Adirondack mountaintop were recognized Wednesday with the state’s inaugural Lifesaving Award.

Technical Lt. Peter R. McLain and Technical Sgt. Brian D. Rumrill of the State Police Aviation Unit piloted the helicopter that saved Maddie Popolizio and Blake Alois of Niskayuna, who were stuck for two days on Algonquin Mountain.

Video of the Dec. 13, 2016, rescue shows the helicopter flying under heavy snow and cloud cover as one of the hikers is airlifted. Two dozen DEC Forest Rangers, members of the State Police Special Operations Response Team, and Aviation Units participated in the search.

The crew made a dozen passes before they caught a break in the dense clouds and wind that allowed them to hover just long enough to hoist the two hikers into the craft.

“It was a team effort by everyone involved,” said McLain on Wednesday. “It was probably my most challenging mission. I remember looking back at Maddie and she just had a smile on her face.”

Both men are four-year veterans of the aviation unit.

Popolizio and Alois had gone hiking on Dec. 11, 2016. The couple were experienced winter hikers and had sufficient gear, food and water. But a whiteout rolled through the area and the pair became trapped in several feet of snow as the temperature dropped below zero.

“It’s such a blessing to be here,” Alois said Wednesday. “It feels like just a few months ago.”

Both hikers fully recovered from their ordeal.

A cellphone ping helped searchers establish a parameter for the search and a local guide eventually found them huddled in a snowbank beneath a tree 265 feet below the 5,115-foot summit of Algonquin.

The State Police helicopter took the rangers to the stranded couple. Rangers wrapped both of them in blankets and hoisted them aboard the helicopter. The two were treated at a hospital. The State Police team then went back out and lifted out a team of rangers on the other side of the mountain who had spent the night on the mountain as part of the search.

Last March, the state Department of Environmental Conservation recognized McLain and Rumrill with the commissioner's Meritorious Service Awards. The State Police Aviation unit's Bell UH-1 was renamed "Algonquin Angel" for its work in the rescue.

The new award, given by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, recognizes law enforcement officers who act courageously or unselfishly to save a life. The award will be given to officers who are nominated for the state's Police Office of the Year award. said Michael Green, executive deputy commissioner of the state Department of Criminal Justice Services.

“Certainly, the exemplary actions of Technical Lt. McLain and Technical Sgt. Rumrill during the harrowing December 2016 rescue on Algonquin Mountain capture the intended spirit of the Life-Saving Award," he said.

Original article can be found here ➤

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