Campbell River and Comox Valley Search and Rescue teams join forces to rescue injured mountaineers

Search and Rescue personnel await the helicopter to extract the injured mountaineers. Photo courtesy Comox Valley Search and Rescue
Search and Rescue personnel assist a group of injured mountaineers. Photo courtesy Comox Valley Search and Rescue.
Search and Rescue personnel assist a group of injured mountaineers. Photo courtesy Comox Valley Search and Rescue

Two Island search and rescue teams combined forces to save a group of injured mountaineers Tuesday, Oct. 6.

The Campbell River and Comox Valley Search and Rescue teams collaborated for a smooth rescue operation, after word was received that the three male hikers had fallen from a glacier below King’s Peak – a mountain in Strathcona Park.

Campbell River Search and Rescue (CRSAR) volunteer Tim Fairbanks was one of the volunteers who responded to the call.

“They were travelling on the glacier, all attached to the same rope, which is normal procedure,” he said. “One of them had a faulty or damaged crampon (a traction device mountaineers attach to their footwear) and that individual took a slip, which caused the start of the fall.”

The other two party members used their ice axes to slow down the fall.

“They performed that properly… and prevented a worse accident, because they were able to slow themselves down. But in the course of the sliding and tumbling, that’s where the injuries occurred.”

Fairbanks said the hikers did everything correctly.

“We have no criticism of how they were prepared,” he said. “The satellite emergency response equipment was key.”

CRSAR received the emergency notification at dusk on Monday, and because it was a two-way response device, rescue personnel were able to communicate with the mountaineers to assess the situation.

“Not all these devices offer two-way communication… this one was two-way, so they were able to say ‘we have suffered minor injuries and we are hunkering down for the night where we are.’ So we told them we would come and get them at first light,” said Fairbanks. “We were able to fly in the next morning and spot them from the aircraft immediately.”

While the team reached the camp quickly, weather provided some challenges for the extraction of the injured climbers.

“There was a bit of a waiting game, as we had clouds moving out,” said Fairbanks. “Then when the clouds finally cleared, then the wind picked up.”

The hoist team made numerous approaches, but aborted several times, returning to base and lighten the cargo load.

“In the end they left all the technicians on the ground, leaving just the pilot and the hoist operator… two of us on the ground with the subjects were also hoist trained, so we were qualified to [load the hoist],” said Fairbank, who offered a specific shout-out to the helicopter pilot.

“I often point out that we are just the dummies on the ground and the real heroes are the pilots. They are so skilled.”

Fairbanks said the operation took about two hours from the time they reached the injured climbers, to the time the scene was cleared.

A total of seven search and rescue personnel were involved in the rescue.

“It went exactly how we train for these things,” said Fairbanks.

King’s Peak mountain is located 25 kilometres northeast of Gold River and two kilometres north of Elkhorn Mountain.

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terry.farrell@blackpress.ca

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