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Helicopter Rescue in Gorge of Upper Yosemite Falls Saves Stranded Hiker Near Dangerous Waterfall Drop

Tue June 10 2014 5:08 pm
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NPS officials say a backpacker was able to climb onto a large boulder while being swept away by rapid water before plunging to his death from a waterfall at Yosemite National Park. He was hoisted off the boulder by a rescue crew in Helicopter 551 (For best view of details, click video to full-size screen).

Report from Yosemite Search and Rescue …

On May 28, 2014, at approximately 11:45 am, the Yosemite Emergency Communications Center received a 911 call from an individual in a party of four backpackers stating that one of the members of the party had fallen into the creek at the base of Upper Yosemite Fall. The reporting party and two other friends were in the boulders near the base of the falls and could see the subject stranded on the boulder in the middle of the river. Two park rangers were dispatched to the scene to evaluate the degree of the emergency and the resources necessary to perform a rescue. The rangers arrived on scene approximately 45 minutes after the 911 call and located the reporting party, who led the rangers to an area where they could see the subject. The subject was lying on a boulder below a series of cascades in class V+ whitewater in an area commonly referred to as the “Inner Gorge.”

The reporting party stated that his friend was scrambling around on wet slabs near the gorge when he slipped and fell in. The subject was extremely fortunate that another member of his party happened to see him fall, as they were slightly separated at the time of the incident. The creek flushed him through over 100 feet of whitewater before he was able to pull himself onto a boulder in the middle of the gorge. Had the subject been unable to self-rescue by getting onto the rock, he would have taken fatal plunge over a waterfall. (See photo below.) The park rangers determined that an emergent extrication was necessary because of the potential for serious injuries and hypothermia.

Park rangers considered two plans: attempt a helicopter short-haul operation or perform a rope extrication. It was determined that any sort of rope rescue would take a significant amount of time due to the extremely wet and technical terrain. A delayed rescue had the potential to exacerbate the victim’s hypothermic condition. Nevertheless, additional search and rescue team members began hiking to the scene with equipment to perform a rope extrication as a contingency plan. Meanwhile, park helicopter 551 performed a reconnaissance fly-over to determine if a short-haul operation would be possible. This area of the falls has high gusting winds that can make flight operations unsafe. Fortunately, the helicopter pilot determined that he could safely perform the short-haul operation. He returned to Ahwahnee Meadow, where he picked up the short-haul attendant. The attendant was flown and inserted into the subject’s location, where he detached from the short-haul line. He quickly put the victim into a harness and the helicopter returned and lifted both out of the gorge and back to Ahwahnee Meadow. The subject was then transferred to an ambulance, where he was treated for hypothermia. He sustained no other injuries and was released.

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NPS Alert: When hiking in areas with swiftwater, stay on the trail and away from the water. Rocks along rivers and creeks are extremely slick when dry, and even more so when wet. Many visitors slip on slick rock every year and a few are swept away, often suffering serious injuries or death. Look where the current will take you before approaching the water. Even water that looks calm can have powerful—often deadly— currents.

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