summit-rescue

An injured climber is air-lifted to safety. Photo by Erik Broms

Rescue teams helped a National Guard helicopter squad hoist a woman with a broken leg to safety from 11,000 feet on Mount Hood Sunday.

The woman was hit by a large falling rock twice the size of a basketball while descending the One O’Clock Couloir just below the Summit Ridge. Her climbing partners managed to lift her back up to the ridge by rope and call for help from there. Fortunately, it was a warm day on the mountain, with very little wind as they waited for assistance.

The climbers called 9-1-1 at around 10 am. Seven members of Portland Mountain Rescue and two members of the American Medical Response Reach and Treat Team raced to the mountain, traveled by Timberline snow cat up to about 8900 feet, and climbed up from there.

The Oregon Army National Guard also responded to the call, assembling a rescue crew to travel to the scene in a Black Hawk Helicopter.

“We had air support coming but we didn’t know when, so we just took a litter and gear, and hoofed it up,” says PMR volunteer Erik Broms. “We probably got up there to the Summit Ridge by 5:30 or 5:45. Climbing conditions were actually pretty good. A couple of rocks came down while we were climbing, but there was no ice or rock fall on the Old Chute.”

Two members of the RAT team reached the injured climber first and gave her some pain medication. “She was having a hard time,” says Broms. “She had been up there most of the day with a broken leg, and she and her friends were wondering how they were going to get her off the mountain.”

The PMR team had the necessary gear to transport her down the mountain methodically. But with no wind and excellent visibility, conditions were ideal for a much faster air-lift directly to a helicopter. The helicopter team decided to lower a cable and lift the injured climber up from the ridge without landing the chopper.

The National Guard team first lowered a paramedic down by cable from the helicopter. The paramedic worked with PMR and the RAT team to transfer the climber securely into a litter designed for air-lifts, and the helicopter crew hoisted her up from the ridge to the helicopter.

Broms said it was the first time he had seen an injured climber air-lifted into a helicopter from the summit of Mount Hood. “We have worked with the National Guard many times but to my knowledge and to Rocky (Henderson’s) knowledge, and Rocky’s been doing this since 1986, I don’t know of anyone else who has been hoisted or air-lifted off the summit of Mount Hood by a Black Hawk helicopter before. That was a first.”

It was also a powerful thing to witness. “The rotor wash is like 100 miles an hour,” says Broms, “You’re holding on. It’s hard to move and you can’t hear. Removing the other litter she was packed in, that was really hard. It was like a sail. We had to stake it down and have some people sit in it.”

Air maneuvers on the mountain do not always go smoothly. Back in 2002, several helicopter teams responded when nine people fell into a crevasse on Mount Hood. A National Guard helicopter successfully rescued two climbers, but an Air Force Pavehawk helicopter carrying a rescue crew lost control when the wind shifted and crashed dramatically, rolling down the mountain and tossing one crew member out the door.

Fortunately for everyone involved, Sunday’s air-lift rescue from the summit went off perfectly. The Black Hawk flew off with the patient at about 7 pm and transported her to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland. The rescue teams climbed down the mountain with the relieved climbing party.

In case you've never seen footage of that 2002 helicopter crash on Mount Hood, here is a clip showing what happened: