Fallen Hiker Recovery

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About the time we were wrappin up a SAR training mission in the Big Lava Bed, we were called to a 100' fall victim 2 miles up a popular mountain trail... the report was a compound arm fracture, and unconscious - but as will be seen, initial reports are often WAY off in terms of actual, verifiable reality.

Heuy hovers
Medic lowered
Huey prepares for hoist ops
Pack up, and carry out.
Puffing and panting up the trail, we listened to radio traffic - part of which was a request for air support. Gasping and wheezing to the scene of the fall (some 3 miles), an EMS type and I rigged a quick anchor and rappelled through some timber to the end of a 200' rope. Off rope, we worked our way to the top of a steep clearing/cliff.

About then, the incoming Helicopter (a Huey from the 832nd Med. Co.) made radio contact - time to get busy.The EMS dude retreated back into the timber, after helping tie me off with 1" tubular webbing. The helo vectored in, and lowered a Medic with their winch.

The helo relayed a request from their Medic for assistance with the patient...Gak. so I unclipped and did my best Spiderman imitation, getting down to the Medic and, unfortunately, deceased patient (approx. 400'-500' below the trail).

It is not part of the military rescue helo's job to extract bodies - so I was surprised when the Medic said they'd go ahead and hoist anyway (in fact, up until he said that, I'd never seriously considered kissing a man; this was a truly inaccessible spot)...!

The helo then radioed that it was departing the area to refuel, and would return in a bit for the hoist op.

The Medic mentioned they'd probably have to hoist me first to assist the Crew Chief in getting the fairly large patient into the helo (which cause me to seriously considered having his babies, since being hoisted meant I wouldn't have to climb my aging, aching carcass back up that silly cliff!).

We commenced to setting about getting ready to begin the process of packaging the body in the stokes litter - no mean feat on the loose talus slope at the base of the cliff (the details of which will not be explored at any length here.). Meanwhile, I'm thinking about this whole hoist thing... Yup; had the traininig (sort of). Nope; never actually done it before. Ah well, its getting dark, and what you can't really see can't really hurt you. Right?

The whirly-birdy with the winchy-thingy returned (as darkness did indeed fall) from their fuel run, and I climbed on the Forest Penetrator for the 100'-150' ride up. The remains were then hoisted, followed by the Medic – we left the area, and landed at a nearby ball field LZ (set up by the local Fire Department).

After unloading, the helo lifted off, and cleared the area - the firemen picked up the traffic cones (the top of which they had duct-taped strobe lights) that had marked the LZ - the Fire Chief wandered over to me fiddling with one of the strobes (duct-taped to a traffic cone) and asked me:

"So, do you have a knife?"

Then it was back to the trail to assist bringing all that gear down... However, by then the exhausted team had made it most of the way back to the trailhead, so there wasn't much left to do.

Keep in mind this story is only from my limited perspective; there was an enormous ammount of effort, by many folks (Skamania EMS, Silver Star SAR, Wind River SAR, etc.), put into getting stokes, ropes, rigging gear, etc. up the trail... and is often the case it all needed to be lugged back down without ever being used. Some might think of that as wasted effort, but in fact; that is exactly what must happen - because "you just never know..."

After all, SAR is a serious TEAM effort.

P/S This story focuses on the nuts and bolts of a SAR mission - It should not be forgotten that it was the result of very tragic circumstances. Be Safe.

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