A 58-year-old woman sustained serious injuries earlier this week in an isolated canyon at Death Valley National Park. Two rangers on patrol in the area heard calls for help and set a rescue into motion.
On the afternoon of April 13, 2009, Rangers Steven Powell and Rachel Brady were on patrol in Darwin Canyon at Death Valley National Park. Around 3:30 p.m. they heard a man shouting for help and learned that his wife had been injured in a fall above Lower Darwin Falls.
They found that the victim was suffering an angulated compound fracture to her right ankle and a probable tibia fracture to her left leg. She also had no circulation sensation or motor function (CSM) in her right foot.
The fractures alone were bad enough, but the lack of circulation sensation or motor function were indications of a very serious condition, and the location of the accident presented some definite challenges.
At the falls, Darwin Canyon is 600 feet deep and 75 feet wide and has no radio communications, so rangers were unable to summon additional help from that location. Brady made a mile-and-a-half hike to get to a point where he could make radio contact while Powell remained with the woman and provided emergency care. Powell was able to reestablish CSM’s in the woman’s right foot.
Ranger Mike Nattrass assumed incident command and arranged for a California Highway Patrol (CHP) helicopter with a hoist to fly to the site. A CHP helicopter with a crew of three arrived around 6:30 p.m., navigated into the 75-foot-wide section of the canyon, and lowered a flight paramedic to assist rangers in preparing the woman for the hoist. She was lifted out just before nightfall and flown to Southern Inyo Hospital for further treatment and evaluation.
Park staff have commended the actions of the CHP crew, who displayed extraordinary flying skills in less than favorable conditions. Had evacuation not been available by helicopter, the woman would have faced a difficult and lengthy trip by trail.