Governor Manchin flies in to award rescuers
The West Virginia Army National Guard hosted an awards ceremony at Snowshoe Saturday for the groups who helped rescue 17 stranded troops after a Navy helicopter crashed on Back Allegheny Mountain on February 18.
West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin and Congressman Nick Rahall arrived in separate helicopters at the mountaintop resort to attend the event. Manchin arrived in the governor's Jet Ranger helicopter, while Rahall arrived in an Army National Guard Blackhawk.
After landing in a parking lot below Snowshoe Chapel, the politicians were greeted by Major General Allen Tackett, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard.
The governor said he visits Pocahontas County "as often as possible."
"It's the prettiest part of our state with all the beautiful mountains," he said. "We landed in Randolph County and had a little function there this morning - Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs - for the kids. We stopped there and flew over that mountain range right here and it's just such a gorgeous day.
"We came over to say 'thank you' to all of the first responders and all of our rescue people that basically put themselves in harm's way to help someone else. To have the outcome that we did, no loss of life and no major injuries and to be able to stabilize and stay with those people and make that effort they did to get through that night. If it hadn't been for our West Virginia rescue teams - who knows what the outcome might have been?"
Manchin, Rahall and Tackett visited with rescuers and family members before the group moved to Mountain Lodge for the awards ceremony.
Manchin and Rahall presented certificates of appreciation to individuals participating in the rescue including personnel from Shavers Fork Fire and Rescue; Cass Fire and Rescue; Bartow-Frank-Durbin VFD; the National Radio Astronomy Observatory; Snowshoe Mountain Resort and the National Guard.
Tackett presented plaques on behalf of the National Guard to each of the groups involved in the rescue operation.
Congressman Rahall said the rescue effort exemplified the "strength of character" of citizens in the Mountain State and that Hollywood could not recreate the rescue effort.
"Miracle on the mountain, what a perfect name for a movie," he said. "But, I'm sure that whatever actors could be found to play the parts of each of you would never fully do what happened on that mountain that night justice, because they would not know and no amount of training or practice could they learn, what it is to be a West Virginian and to be a member of our National Guard and to be the family that you are."
Tackett said the rescue operation was the best he's seen in 47 years of service.
"In 47 years, I've never seen an exercise or an event come off any more professionally than the one on February 18th," he said. "How many times in the mountains of West Virginia can you find a helicopter that crashed into the trees, into the mountains? Just finding it is a tremendous effort. But then rescuing the people in less than 24 hours and getting them out in five and six and eight-foot snowdrifts and being able to make all of that happen with injured personnel and getting them off that mountain to facilities to be treated."
"That could have never transpired had it not been for the training that you all do on a regular basis and your professionalism as first responders."
Tackett introduced Governor Manchin, who praised the first responders for their work throughout the year, not just the helicopter rescue.
"Taking the time and effort to have your skill sets trained to where you can put yourselves in harm's way to help or save another human's life, usually a West Virginian," he said. "I don't know if I, as a governor, can bestow any more praise on a person who does that. That's why I'm here - to say, on behalf of this great state and the people of this state, thank you for what you do every day. Not just this heroic effort and the 'miracle on the mountain' - it's the miracle that you perform every day for the people who depend on you."
Manchin thanked Snowshoe Mountain Resort chief operations officer Bill Rock for the resort's assistance with the rescue effort. The governor said Rock's efforts at Snowshoe had put "West Virginia back on the map."
"In West Virginia, it used to be - 'well, I've been to the Greenbrier,' because the Greenbrier is a premier resort and we use that as kind of our landmark," he said. "But now guess what they say? 'I've been to Snowshoe.' Now it's the Greenbrier and Snowshoe. That's pretty lofty company to be in. Bill, you all have done a tremendous job and I appreciate it so much. You helped put West Virginia on the map
and keep us on the map."
Rahall said he would continue to work in Congress to make sure first responders in southern West Virginia were properly equipped and trained.
"There were monies in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as the stimulus package, that provides money for our fire departments, for our safety/rescue - across the whole spectrum of services that we need," he said. "But that's a small step.
"In other legislation, when we go through the budget this year, we have to look at it and make sure that there is money for our fire/rescue departments, our volunteer fire departments. We've announced a round of grants here in the recent months. It's incumbent upon us to continue to try to provide the tools with which to do their job. And they do it so well and, as we all know, so often without pay."