Mount Rainier Rescue of 3 Canadian Climbers Successfully Utlilizes Helicopter Short Haul System

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Date: September 3, 2013
Contact: Chuck Young, Chief Ranger, 360-569-6612

Three male Canadian climbers sustained multiple injuries from a fall into a crevasse while descending from the summit at 11,200’ on the Emmons Glacier on Sunday, September 1. The incident was reported to Mount Rainier National Park at approximately4 another climbing team ascending the routethat came upon the team that had fallen onto a ledge approx. 30 feet below the lip of the crevasse.  

The park's contract cooperator, Northwest Helicopters (Olympia WA), inserted four climbing rangers and rescue gear at a landing zone a few hundred vertical feet above the accident site. The patients were each lifted from the crevasse and flown to the Sunrise Visitor Center area using the short-haul technique whereby rescuers and their patients are flown into and out of remote accident sites secured by rope and harness below a flying helicopter. The two most seriously injured climbers were airlifted from Sunrise to Harborview Medical Hospitalby two helicopters from Airlift Northwest. The third climber was transported to a local hospital via ground ambulance.

This was Mount Rainier National Park's first short-haul mission for its newly established helicopter short-haul program. Over the last two decades many parks throughout the National Park Service (NPS) have incorporated use of the short-haul technique to extract lost and injured visitors from remote and difficult to reach sites. Mount Rainier is the tenth park in the NPS to develop a short-haul program.

Short-haul tends to minimize the number of rescue personnel exposed to the hazards of rescue operations, and allows for line of sight and direct communication between the pilot and the rescuers. The use of a helicopter short-haul is but one of a number of methods by which the NPS rescues climbers off the mountain. The method chosen for any particular rescue is determined by environmental conditions, resource availability, and risk assessment.

Approximately 36 personnel were assigned to the incident. Partners involved in the mission included Northwest Helicopters out of Olympia, Washington, Airlift Northwest, American Medical Response out of Buckley, Washington.

The number of climbers attempting to scale the mountain after Labor Day drops off significantly due deteriorating climbing conditions.  Longer meandering routes with challenging route-finding become the norm due to the size and greater number of exposed crevasses. Firm icy conditions make falls more likely and less forgiving. Shorter days, cooler conditions and less predictable weather also reduce the margin of error on the mountain. It is strongly suggested that those considering a climb or hike on the mountain check for current conditions with park rangers before setting out, and that they conservatively heed warnings of anticipated changes in weather and deteriorating conditions.


Last updated: February 28, 2015

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