Expansion of Night Time Technical Rescue Capabilities
Sedona AZ (December 13, 2018) – On November 10, 2018, after 5 PM, a 54- year-old Sedona man called for help after he got stuck on the side of Capitol Butte (aka Thunder Mountain), Sedona, while hiking up the side of the mountain. He was off trail and situated on a small rock about 4’ x 8’ and completely surrounded by near vertical faces. He only had a cell phone with him and was dressed in light clothing as darkness was approaching.
Verde Search and Rescue Ground units were deployed above and below the man’s position and made contact with the stranded hiker. After assessing the conditions, it was determined there was not a safe way to get him down.
The Yavapai Sheriff Search and Rescue (YCSRT) Backcountry unit and DPS Ranger Air Rescue were then called to the scene. DPS flew over the subject just before the sun went down and determined that a hoist rescue would be attempted. They noted this would be the first night time technical rescue attempted by DPS Ranger crews. The alternative plan was a rope rescue by the YCSRT Backcountry team.
As DPS began preparations for the rescue, ground crews were able to drop a hat, gloves, and emergency blanket to the stranded hiker as the temperature was moving quickly into the 40s.
Ranger 1, AZDPS’s new Bell 429 helicopter, arrived after sunset, landed briefly, and a plan was formulated to lower a DPS technician down to the man, get him into a rescue harness, and off the mountain. At any point in the operation, it could have been called off for safety concerns. Using an external hoist, DPS deployed a Trooper/Paramedic onto the ledge near the stranded climber. Lighting from Ranger 1 illuminated the scene while the Trooper/Paramedic wrapped the climber in a specialized transport suit. Utilizing the external hoist, he was then pulled into the hovering helicopter and flown to a YCSO command post.
Although AZDPS Air Rescue units have been rescuing victims across the state for nearly 50 years, this mission represents the first external load technical rescue performed during night hours. Technical rescues are routinely conducted during daylight hours by AZDPS Air Rescue units. During night hours, Ranger crews traditionally access and extract victims by means of landing in confined spaces, one-skid landings, or hover insertions/extractions. The lack of external load capability at night can slow the rescue of victims in emergency situations. The addition of hoist technical rescue capability at night greatly enhances public safety in Arizona, as was the case in this mission. The night time technical mission was also made possible because of the extensive training by the helicopter crew. For the last 12 months, the AZDPS’s helicopter crews have gained significant experience in hoist operations and recently completed an intense two-week training program.
“This type of rescue is challenging even in the best of circumstances. Our new equipment and training that enabled this rescue to occur at night, really paid off. The victim was unprepared for a very cold night and our crew recognized he needed to be extracted from the mountain before temperatures dropped.” Said Colonel Frank Milstead, Director, Arizona Department of Public Safety.