Former local resident helps with rescue near Newfoundland
GLOVERSVILLE — Disasters don’t always happen in easily accessible and comfortable places.
On April 24, former city resident Erik Blom and six other members of the 103rd Squadron of the Air National Guard had to parachute from a C130 cargo plane into the 63-degree mid-Atlantic with 10-foot waves in almost pitch darkness for a rescue.
They had flown from Gabreski Air Base on Long Island for five hours to help four crew members who were severely burned in an explosion on the M.V. Tamar freighter 1,400 miles off Newfoundland, outside the Coast Guard’s range.
“The most dangerous portion of the rescue is parachuting,” said Senior Master Sgt. Blom, a 1994 graduate of Gloversville High School.
“Ultimately, our first concern is everyone’s safety and coming back alive,” he said.
“By the time we jumped, two were deceased” and the other suffered burns over 70 percent of their bodies, Blom said.
Using advanced medical training and equipment, the Air Force team was able to keep the other two victims alive and sedated for 36 hours until they could be helicoptered to medical facilities in Europe.
For their heroism and skill in saving the men, including a Slovenian sailor, the president of Slovenia decorated members of the 102nd Combat Parachute Unit and the 103rd Rescue Squadron of the New York Air National 106th Regiment. Maj. Edward Boughal accepted that nation’s Medal of Merit with his regiment at the United Nations in New York City.
“We’re honored to get to perform this mission,” said Blom, who normally works as a Suffolk County police officer.
“We’re just motivated to do our job,” he said.
Blom is no stranger to risky rescues.
While part time with the Air National Guard, he regularly rotates with full-time Air Force rescuers. The job requires two and a half years of training.
In May of last year, Blom and his six-man team were awarded the Bronze Star for Valor, the fourth-highest Air Force award for heroism. They came in a helicopter to rescue four injured soldiers in Afghanistan while under heavy gunfire from insurgents. One soldier later died of his injuries.
The rescue team was on the ground for 12 minutes, an unusually long time for the team. “Well, we normally land, pick someone up, and we’ll be gone in a minute,” Blom told this newspaper after receiving the award.
He said the team had “to run about 60 meters” to make the rescue and were the targets of a rocket that fortunately missed them.
Blom, who was in the Army full time from 1995 to 2000 before joining the Guard, has served several tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa. The 41-year-old is married with three children.
Given the dangers of his rescue work, his comment about it could be considered a kind of understatement: “I really enjoy a sense of challenge.”
Blom said the military is in his blood. His father, Wayne, of Gloversville retired from the Army in 1991. Blom’s two brothers and stepsister served in the military. The father of Wayne’s wife, Mona, is retired from the Air Force.
“We’re very, very proud of him,” said Wayne, who tried to call his son but was unable to reach him while he was on the Atlantic Ocean mission.
“I was not really worried at all,” he said.
“I know how these guys train,” he said.
Wayne said his son is in such an elite Special Forces team that there are fewer than 500 of them in the Air Force.