April 2008

Why Will SSAR Be The Beneficiary Of The Rock The Boat Project?

Read On To Understand The Incredible Value Of These Arizona Volunteers

As Told To Carol L. Allen

March 15: 911 Call

 THE REASONS -- These representative members of the Superstition Search & Rescue team are nothing less than heroes (some would say "angels"). The headline of the accompanying story asks why SSAR has been chosen as the beneficiary of the Rock the Boat project. These incredibly valuable volunteers are the reasons why. The March double rescue from the Superstition Mountains was the third technical rescue the team had done in five weeks.















AFTER HIS FALL -- John is shown after being found by his rescuers and packaged for his flight out of the Superstition Mountains. Reports are that he is now doing well. Because of his injuries, John was treated and AirVac'd to the hospital first. Then the rescuers turned their efforts to retrieving his terrified girlfriend Emily who was stranded on the cliff above him.













Dispatch receives a phone call. On the line is a young man’s delirious voice.  The 911 operator contacts Pinal County Sheriff’s office.

 “John, a young adult, has fallen off a cliff, and his girlfriend Emily is clinging to the wall above him.” 

Superstition Search and Rescue is paged out for assistance at noon. John is new to our state and has no idea where he is.  He only knows that he is in the Superstition Mountains, and he and Emily are in serious trouble. 

Impossible Without GPS

The Sups are 240 square miles of rugged maintain range. It would have been impossible to find them if it had not been for the GPS technology in John’s phone. 

It does not pinpoint him, but it does put him in an area. Ben Cook, Pinal County search coordinator, Commander Robert Cooper, and Larry Hincha are able to use their knowledge of the Superstitions to establish a high-percentage search area — the southwestern portion of the mountain.

DPS Air Rescue is contacted.  Shortly before our team arrives at “base camp,” the DPS helo flew low over the top of our vehicles as our team drove east on Broadway toward our search area. 

Through my windshield at the stop sign at Mountain View and Broadway, I see the helo flare upward against the face of the Sups, climbing altitude then pitching left, flying the vertical faces of our search area. 

Attack Plan Decided

By the time I arrive at the base camp, John and Emily have been located. At base camp, DPS, Ben Cook and Commander Cooper talk about an attack plan.  They all agree that a tech member should look at the location to find out what is required. Cooper sends the man standing closest by him: Mike Wallace.

 Air Rescue hooks right into the canyon in which John and Emily are stranded. The pilot flies to the end of the vertical walls that tower a thousand feet above, making the helo a mere spot silhouetted against the rock faces.

The pilot then swings left.  Wallace is amazed at what he is now viewing.   A young woman clings for her life 80 feet up on a face that appears to be 500 to 600 feet tall.  At the base of this vertical lies a young man. 

Back at base camp after gearing up, Command sends Wallace and a DPS paramedic to be inserted on the mountain where they have to traverse the terrain over to John.  Two additional teams are inserted in sequence: Team Two, Candace Hesson and Walt Barrand; Team Three, Mike Mellow and Larry Hincha, and Team Four, Bruce Horkin and John Swain. 

John First, Then Emily

All teams carry the necessary supplies to package John for extraction.  While the SSAR members and the DPS paramedic work on John, Team Three scales up the face to a safe place below Emily. 

They assure her she is going to be okay but that she will have to wait and that John needs to be taken out first because of his injuries. 

The location of this rescue is hazardously steep.  John has to be attached to a simple rope system with Jon Swain being the “sitting anchor,” or simply stated, Swain has the rope attached to him as he holds the patient from sliding down the hill.    

After John is treated, DPS is radioed.  Soon the familiar wop of the rotator blades can be heard. The helo is then seen flying low across the desert floor, swooping up into the canyon were John lies ready to be flown out. 

The bird noses into the cliff then radios to the teams below that John will have to be moved down the mountain. He is too close to the edge for a safe extraction.   

Again, with “the big man” Swain as an anchor, the team carefully maneuvers John down approximately 30 feet.  DPS again noses in, and the 100-foot rope attached to it swings in. 

John AirVaced To Hospital

John and Wallace are attached and lifted off the edge and out of the canyon.  John is flown to base camp were AirVac transports him to the hospital. 

More ropes and gear are quickly gathered.  Mike Mellow and John Swain are radioed and told to hike back to the insertion spot so they can be picked up and be reinserted on the top of the mountain. 

Robert Cooper and Mike Wallace are then inserted on the mountain, east and above Emily.  Shortly after, Swain and Mellow are inserted. 

Emily Is Terrified

All four members hike and climb their way to a location above Emily. It is critical to set the anchor directly above the patient. 

We are running out of light, and it is impossible to see from above where Emily is stranded.  Hincha and Horken climb up a canyon to the east of Emily where they can view the location of both Emily and the team members above her, making sure the rope system is directly above her. 

A 300-foot and a 600-foot rope are anchored for a “rescuer-based pick off.” Mellow hooks in as the sun starts to hide behind the rock walls.  Four hundred feet later, Mellow reaches Emily.

Understandably, she is terrified. She has been clinging to the wall for 12 hours. After “capturing” her and after some coxing by Mellow, Emily gains trust in her rescuers and steps off the cliff that has held her in bondage. 

In the darkness, team members gather equipment.  Cooper repels down the cliff, clearing the rope to retrieve.  Swain and Wallace DC the rope and begin hiking out.

Tragedy Averted; Rescuers Thanked

Robert, Mike, Larry, Bruce, and Walt hike out with Emily. The drama has ended with no fatalities.

No one person can be credited for saving these two young adults’ lives. It took the efforts of many people.

The base camp members Albert Moreta, P.J. Howell, and Richard and Joyce Wilson. Jeremy Schmidt, our communications officer, and 911 dispatch stayed on the line with John for two and half hours. DPS Air Rescue, Ben Cook, Pinal County coordinator, and Superstition Search and Rescue all did an incredibly difficult job amazingly well!   

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