Fallon search and rescue saves horse from canyon with helicopter

Naval Air Station Fallon Search and Rescue team's slogan, "you fall, we haul," took on a different meaning last week.

A horse trapped in American River Canyon five miles east of Auburn, Calif., on Thursday prompted the Longhorn SAR team to spring into action.

The team of Jonathan Ashmore, Aaron Hudacky, Jim Smith, Israel Pina, Ricky Pierron and Trevor Ahrendt lifted the horse, named Natasha, through the air with its Seahawk helicopter.

Smith said Monday the team was contacted by the El Dorado County Fire Department for help because the California Highway Patrol's helicopter is not equipped to handle that much weight.

The team flew to the location and discussed the rescue with the fire department and University of California Davis Large Animal Rescue Team. Because the rescue involved an animal, SAR had to receive permission from the base to assist.

Pierron and Ashmore hooked the horse up to a harness, and after the animal was sedated and blindfolded, she was lifted 1,200 feet off the canyon floor where she had spent 18 hours.

Smith said the rescue was a team effort, so the people on the ground knew when to sedate and blindfold the horse. Smith then listened to what Pierron relayed as he pulled the horse up. Smith said he had to be extremely steady.

The horse and its owner, Alicia Hutchinson, were riding Thursday near the American River when Natasha lost her balance. They were swept downstream and became tangled up in some trees.

Smith said the horse and Hutchinson made it to the other side of the river, but Natasha was unable to get enough traction to exit.

Pierron said he saved a few cats before but not an animal weighing 1,100 pounds.

"As a team we have saved three cats, a dog and a horse," Smith added.

Before the NAS Fallon team was called, the fire department and the UC Davis team tried finding alternate routes but were unsuccessful.

Pina said the difficulty was not the horse's weight, but her size made it cumbersome.

"We take a couple of flights every day, but none of them ever involved a horse," he said, adding the crew has moved more weight in the past, but this endeavor was more delicate.

After rescuing the horse, the team picked up 12 ground-support individuals from where the horse had been trapped.

Pierron said his mom appeared more excited about the horse rescue than ones made to save men and women.

The base's SAR team operates within a 200-mile radius of NAS Fallon.

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