A 79-year-old man who fell about 200 feet in the San Juan Mountains was brought to safety Thursday after a complex rescue that involved dozens of volunteers and the use of a Black Hawk helicopter.
The man was described as an experienced mountaineer from Colorado. He was accompanied by a climbing partner.
The San Juan County Office of Emergency Management did not release the man’s name or his medical condition in a news release Friday.
The rescue began about 8 p.m. Wednesday when crews received an emergency call from a witness who saw the man fall from near the top of a 13,000-foot mountain known as V8. That mountain is located near Hope Lake, which borders the San Juan and San Miguel county line, according to the release.
A team of experienced mountain runners arrived first, followed by a second team that was carrying more rescue gear and overnight gear.
The rescue team considered dropping a team into the area via helicopter, but they were unable to find a suitable landing site. The area is steep, rugged and covered in loose shale rock, said DeAnne Gallegos, spokeswoman with San Juan County’s Office of Emergency Management.
The man also had severe injuries that made a nighttime extrication too risky, according to the release. Instead, additional rescuers were sent in with overnight gear to stay with the man.
Meanwhile, working throughout the night, incident commanders made a request for air resources. The Colorado Search and Rescue Association contacted the Air National Guard High Altitude Training Center to request the Colorado Hoist Team perform an extrication of the victim via a Black Hawk helicopter.
The mission was approved for first thing Thursday morning. A Flight For Life medical helicopter was also contacted to help transport the man from a rendezvous site to Mercy Hospital.
The rescue occurred about 6:15 a.m. And as planned, the man was transferred from the Black Hawk to the Flight For Life chopper to be taken to Mercy Hospital.
“The alpine terrain where this accident took place made it incredibly complex and difficult to navigate,” the release said. “Using a helicopter adapted for high altitude alpine flying with hoist capabilities was the best option to extricate the subject.”
In addition to two helicopters, the mission took 18 hours and more than two dozen rescue members. Team members hiked 2,000 vertical feet with medical gear and overnight gear to keep the man alive for 10 hours in the rugged backcountry, said Tyler George, director of Silverton Medical Rescue.
“Other members of the team spent the night working on the logistics necessary to perform one of the most difficult and high-consequence techniques in rescue, the hoist,” George said.
George commended the “dedicated” rescuers. It was the second complex call Silverton Medical Rescue responded to this week.
“This work is hard, the environment is rugged, and the job is mostly unpaid and thankless, yet they continue to respond with skill and professionalism,” he said. “I am incredibly proud to be a part of this team.”
Gallegos reminded outdoor enthusiasts, especially those who spend time in the remote backcountry where there is no cellphone reception, to be prepared by bringing a satellite-linking device in case of an emergency.