Smoky skies and low visibility hampered the helicopter rescue of a hiker injured on Golden Ears Mountain on Sunday, and a first attempt was aborted.
Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue is asking people to carefully consider any trips into the back country during these air quality conditions, and team spokesperson Rick Laing said only good fortune allowed for success in a second rescue attempt.
On Sunday morning at approximately 11 a.m., RMSAR was called to rescue the hurt hiker on the peak in Golden Ears Provincial Park. He was part of a party of three, and suffered a knee injury.
Due to the high amount of wildfire smoke and poor visibility, the first attempt at a helicopter rescue was not possible, said Laing. There was a real danger of the aircraft hitting the mountainside.
A rescue team was sent in on foot, to hike 11 km up to the subject’s location on Panorama Ridge. Carrying gear, it is about a four-hour hike, he said.
A stretcher rescue down the mountain is among the most gruelling that the team can undertake, made more taxing by terrain and the rescuers having to breath in smoke. In fact, Laing said the search team might have made a decision to camp overnight with the subject, waiting for the smoke to clear, as an alternative to carrying him out.
Mutual aid was requested from all neighboring teams. Coquitlam Search and Rescue, Mission SAR, Central Fraser Valley SAR, and South Fraser SAR were all willing to assist with the stretcher rescue.
Laing said a stretcher rescue from a similar location in the past took 14 hours.
Conditions improved when a second attempt to get a helicopter to the subject’s location was made. Talon Helicopters was able to drop off a rescue team close to the injured hiker’s position via hover exit. The rescue team assessed and assisted the hiker to a more suitable location to be helped into the chopper. Just after 3 p.m. the hiker was successfully rescued.
Laing advised hikers to reconsider back country hiking at this time. He noted visibility may preclude a helicopter rescue, and poor air quality will make any stretcher rescue “brutal on rescuers.”