Pickoff of Male Subject

Final location of IB was near a cliff band at 0346161 x 4010296 (WGS84) at an elevation of about 8600 ft. IC was Richard Goldstein. Goldstein received a call at 0140, reporting a “climber stuck on the side of a mountain”. The RP had gone to the Coyote VFD and had gone with a VFD person to the site. They made voice contact with the subject, went to a point on the cliff edge above the subject, and found an anchored and loaded rope. They did not attempt to haul on the rope (which was not a climbing rope) for fear that it might break on a sharp rock. They contacted State Police, who initiated the mission and recommended activating the Los Alamos Fire Dept. Technical Team to get to the site ASAP. LAFD were the first rescuers to arrive on the scene. They reported that they initially had voice contact with the subject, which ceased before they could send their paramedic down to him. They did not see or hear any evidence of a further fall, but when the paramedic descended the cliff band he found that the rope was no longer loaded and that the subject had fallen to the rocks below. I heard an exchange on SAR1 that the subject was about 200 feet below the end of the rope. The paramedic now with the subject, reported to Goldstein that the subject was wearing a “macrame” harness made of parachute cord. Goldstein reported to me that the rope was “from WalMart.” The subject was not conscious, respiration rate 4 to 7 (Cheyne-Stokes breathing), suffering from multiple fractures and severe head injuries. (I later observed that the subject had no helmet on when he was lifted to the top). On the basis of the paramedic’s report, IC called for a helicopter emergency extraction. This proved to be unavailable. CareFlight could come, but had no lift capability and there was no suitable landing zone nearby. Soon thereafter, breathing and heartbeat became undetectable, and the message was quietly spread that the rescue had become a recovery.

 

We arrived at the staging area some time before 0600 and were escorted up to IB by Jim Daniels, who was the Planning Officer. On the drive approaching the staging area, we could see lights high up on the cliff, which I think belonged to LAFD. We signed it about 0615, and were assigned the role of rigging and executing the medium angle raise from cliff edge to the level ground at the top. I took the role of rescue leader, and introduced myself and our team to the LAFD technical leader, offering whatever assistance they needed. He asked that their Stokes be brought down, since they are used to it. That was done.  It should be noted that because there was another cliff band below the subject, and there was no easy access in the downward direction, we had decided to raise the subject. LAFD rigged a haul system above the cliff top, while we scouted a route from the cliff top to the mesa top. Rick did the initial route finding, running a 200 foot rope downward from a good top anchor. This route was located somewhat to the west of the LAFD. location, to avoid knocking rocks down onto the haul team. The rope covered less than half the distance, so Rick continued the route with a 300 foot rope. The vegetation required us to locate the anchor for the bottom rope about 20 feet to the west of the end of the top rope; our plan was to raise to a conveniently located level area and carry the litter across a moderate slope to the bottom of the top rope. We discovered that the total distance to be raised was somewhat more than 500 feet, so Rick proposed that we do an unroped carry over the moderate terrain above the cliff upwards to the bottom end of the bottom rope, where we could begin the medium angle raise. After some adjustment of the route of the lower rope and the addition of two direction-change pulleys, the two routes were ready. I decided that in view of the not-so-steep slope (roughly 25 degrees) we could do two consecutive single rope raises with a 3:1 system and three litter attendants. To avoid tiring the attendants, I decided to put the litter on a wheel. Rick took the foot of the litter while two women from AMRC took the two sides. I did a safety check on what had already been done, and rigged a 3:1 system on each rope (safety checked by Maria). The adjacent image shows our approximate route (red line at the left) from the cliff top to the level ground at the top.

Once our systems were in place, our team members joined the haul team on the high angle raise. This was done fire-department style, with a 12mm rope and a 9:1 system, raising the subject, litter attendant, and paramedic all on one rope (with a tandem prusik belay). This was of course slow, with many resets, but otherwise went OK with a small problem at the edge transition, where the litter hung up on a rock and much tension was built up in the system. After some concern was expressed, the mainline was slacked off enough to clear the offending edge rock, and the haul was resumed without incident. The lowering went smoothly because the progress was being captured by an MPD.

Because our wheel would not fit the LAFD Stokes, the subject was transferred to our litter for the upper phase of the raise. This proceeded with only a little trouble at the start, involving a 5:1 haul system that had been rigged with some twists in it. This was re-rigged as a 3:1, and from there all went smoothly.

How did this situation develop?  We have heard from several sources that the subject and companion were hiking the Continental Divide Trail. If so, it is likely that they were trying to find the route from the mesa top down to the valley. The subject may have been hiking west along FR 77, missed the turnoff to the descent, and possibly went up the road shown in the middle of the map. He might then have used his rope and harness to see whether the cliff offered a way down. However, I have no confirming evidence of this, so this account must be treated as conjectural. What does seem clear is that he was initially found suspended from his rope, and later fell farther down the cliff, sustaining fatal injuries.