Two crew members from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island Search and Rescue received a prestigious award this week for a rescue mission accomplished in July 2020.
On Monday, Hospital Corpsman Chief Ryan Mooney and Aviation Warfare Specialist First Class Justin Boyle were presented with the highest non-combat decoration for heroism in the Navy awards — the Navy Marine Corps Medal.
Mooney and Boyle were part of a rescue team that retrieved a stranded and injured hiker from Mount Stuart. The hiker had slipped around 1,000 feet down the mountain, Boyle said, and had suffered fractures to his leg and ankle.
It took a while for the search and rescue crew to locate the hiker, Boyle said, because of cloud cover in the area. Eventually they contacted him via cell phone, and he helped direct them to his location. Since the helicopter could not reach the hiker where he was, the crew had to insert Boyle and Mooney about 1,000 feet below him.
The pair hiked up to the stranded climber through rocks, ice and snow. When they made it to him, they splinted his fractures and stabilized his wounds, but the weather had worsened during their climb.
“There was really no chance that we were going to get a helicopter up there to extract us out,” Mooney said.
They would have to belay the injured hiker 680 feet down the snowy mountain face. Boyle set up the ropes; with only around 250 feet of rope, he and Mooney had to move the patient in about three sections.
“At this point, we were able to get him over to the snow portion of the mountain,” Boyle said. “It was just safer than trying to carry him over all the rocks.”
They managed to get the hiker safely to the helicopter, which transported him to Harborview Medical Center.
Boyle and Mooney were only recently notified that they would receive the award. Boyle, who had been in the Navy for almost 10 years and on Whidbey Island since March 2019, said the announcement of the award was a happy surprise.
The awarding of the medal was even more of a surprise for Mooney, who is now stationed in San Diego and flew back to Whidbey Island, where he served from 2019 to 2021, for a routine search and rescue evaluation. His first morning here, he was surprised with the award ceremony.
“None of us in this job do any of this work for recognition, but for the times that we are getting recognized, it is a special moment,” Mooney said.