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78-year-old hiker rescued after falling 20 feet in backcountry

Man stabilized, flown to Mercy Regional Medical Center

Emergency responders successfully rescued a 78-year-old man Wednesday after he fell 20 feet while hiking in the backcountry off U.S. Highway 550 in San Juan County.

San Juan County Search and Rescue led the response with assistance from Mercy Regional Medical Center’s Flight for Life helicopter and La Plata County Search and Rescue. The Flight for Life team stabilized the man, who possibly had a broken leg and symptoms of shock, according to initial reports, before transporting him to Mercy early Wednesday afternoon.

“Because of the efforts of these wonderfully dedicated people, this man was brought out safely, and he’s getting the medical attention that he needs,” said Steve Lowrence, undersheriff with the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the county’s search and rescue team. Lowrence did not release the man’s name because of health privacy law.

The man was about 2.5 miles into the backcountry on Cascade Creek Trail, according to GPS coordinates provided by the hikers. Lowrence said those coordinates were integral to the emergency response teams’ successful rescue.

“We all know that accidents happen. Sometimes, things just go wrong. We always encourage people to follow their basic safety rules,” he said.

While the helicopter flew to the incident from Durango, ground crews responded as a backup in case the landing zone wasn’t viable or weather prevented the helicopter from landing.

“A lot of these search or rescue people are voluntary. The wonderful, caring, selfless acts of these people – it’s times like this where, where they really show their value,” Lowrence said.

smullane@durangoherald.com

An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect name of the helicopter service involved in the rescue. Incorrect information was given to the Herald.

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