Sedona AZ (August 13, 2012) – On Saturday, August 11, 2012, the Sedona Fire District (SFD) responded to a report that initially sounded like a routine emergency medical call somewhere on the south face of Thunder Mountain. The first arriving SFD crews soon realized that this was not to be a routine or a standard rescue.
When the hiker fell, he landed in a brush-filled ravine high on the Thunder Mountain slope. The difficulty of locating the injured climber was compounded because he called for help with an international mobile (cell) telephone which prevented triangulating his position. Unable to locate his position, the SFD crews began multiple mountain ascents, all the while trying to establish voice contact with the injured man.
Meanwhile, an Incident Command post was set up to coordinate the SFD rescue effort. Multiple cell phone calls to the injured hiker provided rescuers with two pieces of vital information; the man had fallen over 20 feet and was severely hurt.
“I could tell by the pain in his voice, he had significant injuries and was not doing well; as the incident progressed, I knew his condition was getting worse,” said Battalion Chief Jayson Coil, SFD Incident Commander on the scene.
The initial call for help was received at 2:19 in the afternoon and, at approximately 5:13 PM, SFD firefighter/paramedic Brian Ford was the first to make visual contact with the injured hiker but was unable to reach him.
“I could see him about 30 yards below my position but the terrain was too technical to make direct access to him. I had to climb back up the mountain and over, traverse over, and scramble down to him via an alternate route. It took me about 25 minutes to get down to him,” explained Ford, also the first to arrive at the side of the injured climber. “Once I made contact with the patient, I began advanced life support triage and treatment and was then able to direct the helicopter into the scene.”
At approximately 6:11 in the evening, SFD Firefighter Brent Johnson, a SFD firefighter/paramedic specially trained in helicopter rescue operations, was in the Department of Public Safety (DPS) helicopter as it hovered at the face of Thunder Mountain. Johnson and the DPS helicopter crew quickly developed a rescue plan; Johnson would rappel from the hovering helicopter down to Ford and, a second SFD paramedic, Steve Corpus, both now providing medical treatment to the critically injured hiker.
“It was very difficult to get the helicopter in so close to the mountain. The DPS pilot from the Flagstaff station, Chuck Rush, and the spotter, Chip Main, got so close to the cliff face that the helicopter’s rotor blades were literally 10 feet from the ravine walls. This was certainly one of the more complicated helicopter rescues I have ever done,” explained Johnson.
By 6:39 PM, the injured climber was stabilized and packaged for transport in a litter attached to a rope and hauled below the helicopter.
“It was amazing to see the helicopter flying through the sky, with a patient and a firefighter dangling 100 feet below,” Sedona Fire Chief Kris Kazian stated. “I am constantly in awe and finding a deep admiration for the amazing things all of the members do at SFD. They truly saved someone’s life today and what they did was beyond heroic. My wife and kids were on hand to watch the rescue through binoculars and could not believe what they were watching. I feel blessed to have such a great team serving our community.”
The patient was taken to Sedona Airport where a waiting medical helicopter transported him to a trauma team at Flagstaff Medical Center. After collecting gear, the remaining SFD crews on the mountain made their way down to the trail head.
All SFD personnel were off Thunder Mountain by 7:42 PM.
SFD Battalion Chief Coil stated, “To make this technical of an operation a success and not have any of the 12 SFD personnel get hurt, is a good thing. Due to the arduous nature of the rescue and extended operation, our people ran out of water at one point and we had to send another member up just to provide hydration; fortunately, their physical fitness and training contributed to a successful operation. In the space of five hours some of the firefighters traversed the slope multiple times in 100 degree heat until they located the patient. Their hard work paid off. If they had not located him when they did, he may have had a much different outcome.”
“Sedona Fire District is responsible for many rescues throughout the year through an amazing working relationship with the people at DPS and other agencies with which SFD works,” explained Sedona Fire Chief Kazian. “SFD encourages people to be very careful when climbing and hiking. It does not take much to find yourself in a situation that will require SFD services and sometimes other agencies as well.”