This has, undoubtedly, been a busy season for search and rescue personnel.
In the past 12 days alone, Inyo County Search and Rescue responded to nine separate calls, from Sept. 28 to Oct. 9. From overdue hikers to a hiker who perished from suspected high altitude sickness, SAR has been beating the trails and assisting folks in the backcountry from Mt. Whitney to Bishop Pass.
The calls began at noon Sept. 28 with the report of an overdue hiker, local resident John Williams, as reported earlier in this paper. The hunt for Williams began when he was reported to the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department as being overdue from a solo expedition in the Sierra. Williams was not found by SAR but eventually walked out of the wilderness on his own without injury on Oct. 1. He said in an interview that he under-estimated the amount of time his cross-country adventure would take and fell behind in the schedule he’d set for himself.
A Satellite Positioning and Tracking, or SPOT, device was activated on the Mt. Whitney Trail just 12 hours after the search for Williams began. A SPOT is an emergency personal tracking device service used by hikers, boaters or other explorers and adventurers that may otherwise be out of cell phone range. SPOT is activated and the agency then contacts the closest appropriate authorities: 9-1-1 in North America, for example, or 1-1-2 in Europe.
A device was activated shortly after midnight on Sept. 29 from Trail Camp on the Mt. Whitney Trail. SAR reached a 41-year-old male from Beaumont at 8:40 a.m. The victim was suffering from high altitude sickness. Due to the victim’s condition, a California Highway Patrol helicopter from Victorville was used to airlift the man to Lone Pine Airport where he was then transported to Southern Inyo Hospital for treatment.
Later that day, at 1 p.m., the Sheriff’s Department received a call of an injured 51-year old female who was thrown off her horse near the Bishop Pass Trailhead. SAR used a wheeled litter to bring the victim back to the trailhead and she was then transported to Northern Inyo Hospital.
SAR was about to be called out to a report of an injured hiker on My Whitney trail at 6 p.m. the next day, Friday, Sept. 30, but was cancelled when the 26-year-old male victim from Ridgecrest called to report he would walk out on his own accord.
The team did respond to a call 24 hours later in the foothills. A Bishop woman was injured after rolling an off-highway vehicle near County Road. The Big Pine Volunteer Fire Department, CHP and SAR responded at 6 p.m. on Oct. 1, with firefighters hiking to the victim while SAR used an Inyo County Sheriff’s Department OHV to drive the victim off the hill. The victim was transported by Symons Ambulance to NIH.
Another SPOT device was activated the next day, Sunday, Oct. 2, at 5 p.m. on Mt. Humphreys, west of Bishop. A lead climber in a group had fallen approximately 100 feet and suffered what was later described as broken ribs, multiple bruises and abrasions. SAR climbed all night to reach the victim at 7:40 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 4, according to a press release. The rescue team used ropes and harnesses to reach the 56-year-old man from Irvine. An Army National Guard helicopter from Fresno was used to extricate the victim and fly him to the airport in Bishop. The victim was then transported to NIH by Symons.
An Inyo National Forest 525 Helicopter was used to fly the SAR team to the vicinity of Consultation Lake to respond to call of a “man down and unresponsive” on Monday, Oct. 3 at 11 a.m. The 57-year-old man was airlifted to SIH for treatment.
Helicopters and rescue parties were too late in reaching a 65-year-old man from the Czech Republic. The Sheriff’s Department got a call at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 5 that the man was possibly suffering from high-altitude cerebral edema on the Mt. Whitney trail.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines high-altitude cerebral edema as swelling of brain tissue that is usually fatal.
A hiking companion stayed with the man through the night as Inyo SAR and China Lake Mountain Rescue Group hiked through the night to the victim. When the teams reached the victim, a press release states, “he was listed as critical.”
Army National Guard of Stockton was scheduling an airlift of the victim, but the man died before the helicopter’s arrival. A CHP H80 of Victorville recovered the body that was then transported to Lone Pine Mortuary. The victim’s 58-year-old hiking companion suffered mild frostbite but was able to walk out with the SAR team.
Four days later, on Sunday, Oct. 9, the Sheriff’s Department received another report – this time from Inyo National Forest Service dispatch – of a hiker suffering from high-altitude sickness on the Mt. Whitney Trail. The INF 525 helicopter was airlifted the victim, a 27-year-old Arizona man, to SIH.
The Inyo SAR is always looking for more volunteers. The team holds meetings at the Posse Hut (tan metal building just before the Bishop airport), general meetings the first Thursday of every month at 7 p.m., a classroom training every third Thursday of the month at 7 p.m., and a full day hands-on training the following Saturday.