Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Arizona climber rescued from El Diente

On Sunday morning (July 17th) I was flying to work near Norwood Colorado when I received a call on the radio from an unidentified person.

I answered up and he said he was with the San Miguel County Sheriffs Office. I thought, "great, who's complaining about me making too much noise or flying too close to their house now"?

He then explained he was the Operations Commander and they had a Search and Rescue operation on El Diente peak at approximately 12,300 feet, and asked if I was available to assist. I told him I'd check with my boss on the power line project, Ken Clinger of Great Southwestern Construction and call him back in 10 minutes. Ken made no hesitation in saying to go and do what ever I could to help out.

I called the Operations Commander, Eric Berg, back and made arraignments to pick him up in the helicopter at his house north of Norwood.

Eric was completely ready with pack, helmet, radio and full rescue gear. I gave him a brief safety orientation specific to my helicopter and away we went. While enroute he gave me the Sheriffs Office frequencies and the GPS coordinates of a PLB (Personal Locater Beacon) that was emitting a signal just south and slightly below El Diente Peak at about the 12,300 foot level.

As we approached El Diente the winds were significant and clouds were billowing over the surrounding peaks and dropping down in to the valley where the signal was coming from.

Due to the winds, weather and unfamiliarity with the terrain, I made my first pass high at 12,500 feet at approximately 60 knots. As we passed over the area where I thought they should have been, I didn't see anything below me. I then planned to follow the contour of the ridge and make a tear drop turn away and back along the ridge losing approximately 200 to 300 feet.

As I turned back to head the direction I had just came from, and descending, I immediately saw something that didn't fit in with the rest of the terrain on the steep talus slope ahead of and below us. I told Eric, "There they are".

As we got closer, continuing our decent down to about 12,300 feet, it became obvious they were people and were waving their arms. I made a low pass over them to both, observe their situation, and to let them know we saw them. We saw two people standing waving and one person laying down on the steep rock scree waving one arm. That was a good sight and a great feeling.

Climbers on rock scree. (Photo Ken Nolan)

We then climbed up and out of the valley to contact the Sheriffs Office dispatch and advise them of our find. Once finished we returned to the victim.

The plan was a toe in landing equal in elevation but approx 100 feet off the side of the victim where Eric could exit the helicopter, traverse and assess the situation, while I flew away to give him space to work.

Toe-in Landing on El Diente where Eric gets out. (Photo Ken Nolan, Buena Vista, CO.)

Eric found the victim Joe Yearm in good spirits and discovered that the other two climbers had seen Joe and came to help. They were the ones who had the PLB and activated it, allowing us to virtually fly right to them. Good job Jean and Kenneth!!!

Joe and Jean trying to keep warm at 12,300 feet on El Diente. (Photo Ken Nolan, Buena Vista, CO.)

Eric, in addition to being the SMSO Operations Commander is also a paramedic. Joe had a compound fracture at his knee which had happened the previous afternoon, causing him to spend the night on the mountain.

Eric splinted the leg with ski poles and duct tape. He and the others then stomped out a smallish ledge where I could put one skid for a one-skid pickup.

I flew in and placed my left skid right under Joe and Eric's feet, they loaded Joe up and away we flew to Telluride where Joe was taking to the hospital by Ambulance.

On approach to pick up Joe. (Photo Ken Nolan, Buena Vista, CO.)

One skid landing, picking up Joe and Eric. (Photo Ken Nolan, Buena Vista, CO.)

Departing pickup zone for Telluride. (Photo Ken Nolan, Buena Vista, CO.)


1 comment:

Joanne Casey said...

Didn't know this kind of landing was even possible, scary!