Hikers in two widely separated NPS areas were injured in falls during the past week. The incidents led to challenging rescues, but they could have been a lot worse. In both cases, the men escaped what would likely have been a catastrophic plunge by the narrowest of margins.
Buffalo National River, in the Ozarks of northern Arkansas, includes some beautiful, rugged and very remote terrain. It can also be a tough place to perform a rescue. According to information from the park,
On the afternoon of October 17th, park dispatch was notified that a man had fallen off a waterfall and was seriously injured on a primitive trail in the rugged Indian Creek area of Buffalo National River. Rangers Ken Nelson and Melissa Lamm hiked about a mile and a half on a primitive trail to the scene and contacted a 37-year-old male, Ricky Remmington, who was being treated by local first responders and an advanced life support team.
Remington sustained injuries to his right ribs and right knee after falling and slipping down a waterfall a distance of approximately 15 feet, but was able to arrest himself prior to falling off a 60-foot cliff face to the creek bottom below.
Consider how little time it takes to fall or slide 15 feet, and how difficult it would be during that fall to grab a secure hand or foothold —even if you weren't in a waterfall. The fact this man was able to do so and avoid dropping over the edge of the cliff to the rocky creek bottom flirts with the miraculous.
Members of the Buffalo Search and Rescue Team responded to the scene and a technical rescue was performed into the night hours, lowering the victim down the 60-foot cliff face to the creek bottom. A subsequent litter carryout was conducted over rugged terrain along the primitive trail to the trailhead, where he was then transported by air evac to a local hospital.
Such rescues are fortunately relatively uncommon in this part of the country, but that also means that advanced helicopter rescue techniques such as hoists and short hauls aren't usually available. Buffalo River has a highly-trained team for cliff and cave rescues, but the staff is small compared to parks such as Yosemite, and a litter carryout over rough terrain is a grueling task. Here's where good cooperative relationships with local volunteers pays big dividends.
Twenty-one volunteers assisted park staff in the rescue and carryout. This immense show of support from four volunteer fire departments and the North Arkansas Regional Medical Center contributed to a safe rescue effort.
Two days later and fifteen hundred miles away, another hiker suffered serious injuries in a fall at Acadia National Park in Maine, and it included a similar narrow escape from catastrophe. The park reported,
On Monday, October 19th, 60-year-old Gary Stanko fell while climbing a ladder on the Beehive Trail. Stanko suffered a basilar skull fracture, orbital fracture and knee injury.
A witness reported that Stanko was near the top of the trail ladder when he lost his grip and fell backwards approximately 10 to 15 feet to the trail below.
As in the above case at the Buffalo River, the first fall of about fifteen feet was bad enough, but it was nearly a whole lot worse. The report notes,
His pack stopped him from rolling over a 100-foot drop.
Although people have occasionally survived a fall of that distance, those are not odds you want to test. The good news in this case was that rescuers were able to avoid a long carryout once the technical part of the rescue was over. Once again, a solid working relationship with local resources was a plus for the victim and the park.
Rangers and Mount Desert Island SAR performed a 100-foot technical raise to the top of the mountain, where an Army National Guard Blackhawk helicopter hoisted Stanko in a litter. He was treated by the paramedic on board and transported 20 minutes to Eastern Maine Medical Center, where he is recovering. Stanko and his wife were visiting from Alabama.
Two cases of too close for comfort. We wish both men a full and speedy recovery.