MAST Army helicopter rescue program comes to an end prior to unit’s deployment

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Monday marked the last day the U.S. Army conducted backcountry medical rescues in the Interior, abandoning a free service it had provided for decades and leaving the task to an Alaska Air National Guard unit based out of Anchorage.

People far from medical help will likely wait longer, sometimes hours longer, for an Air Guard helicopter than those who enjoyed assistance from the Army’s air ambulance out of Fort Wainwright, state and local officials said.

And deployments to Afghanistan mean the Interior won’t have an air ambulance nearby until Aug. 1, according to Air Guard spokesman Guy Hayes.

The Army is sending the helicopter unit overseas to help in the war effort. In recent years, a Black Hawk helicopter and its crew rescued about one person per week under an agreement, Military Assistance to Safety and Traffic, or MAST, that was mutually beneficial, providing help for injured civilians and real-life training for military air ambulance crews.

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