Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Injured climber expected to recover

Montana man, 43, fell on ascent of Elephant’s Perch

Express Staff Writer

A 43-year-old Bozeman, Mont., resident is expected to make a full recovery by spring following a fall from the Elephant's Perch near Redfish Lake on July 16.

The climber's partner, Dennis L. Duenas, said he and Michael Reidy were ascending the Elephant's Perch when Reidy fell on the second pitch. Both men are experienced climbers.

Sawtooth Search and Rescue incident commander and Sawtooth Mountain Guides founder Kirk Bachman said the men had camped overnight and were in the midst of a multi-day camping and climbing trip. Bachman said Reidy was ascending the Perch via the Mountaineer's Route when he slipped, hit a ledge and bounced, breaking several vertebrae and dislocating his shoulder.

Duenas was able to help Reidy down to the base of the Perch, return for the campers' gear and return to his partner. Bachman said Duenas and Reidy were found by local hikers Liza and Greg Wilson near the Saddleback Lakes around 11:30 a.m.

"They had done a good job getting [to the trail], and [Duenas] had done a great job rescuing him from the wall," Liza Wilson said. "We thought, 'This guy can't walk out. He needs a backboard.'"

Liza Wilson, who had recently completed a wilderness first aid course, said she stabilized Reidy and stayed with him and his partner while Greg Wilson hiked out to find cell phone service. Liza Wilson said her husband did not call 911, but contacted Bob Rosso at The Elephant's Perch sporting goods store in Ketchum, who then contacted authorities.

The Wilsons were soon joined by Sawtooth Mountain Guides assistant guide Matt Scribner, who had recently completed a wilderness first responder refresher course—a more intensive course than the one she had completed, Liza Wilson said.

"[And] my husband is an ex-mountain guide," she said. "Between the three of us, the guy was in really good hands."

Ketchum Fire Department, Custer County Search and Rescue and the Custer County Sheriff's Office responded to the scene, as did one volunteer from Wood River Fire & Rescue. However, Bachman said Scribner's medical skill was essential to the successful rescue.


"You can go off speculation, but you have to have a medical report to know if he's critical and how much time you have," he said, adding that Reidy had a broken neck and a cracked scapula, and though he was stable, he was having trouble breathing.

Reidy was eventually flown out by an Air St. Luke's helicopter, which landed in the area and was able to transport him to St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise.

Bachman said an Army National Guard helicopter was originally requested—and received permission from the U.S. Forest Service—to hoist the patient out of the area and transport him to the Stanley airstrip, where the air ambulance was meant to be waiting.

However, Bachman said there was a breakdown in communications and protocol that resulted in the Air St. Luke's helicopter's landing in the wilderness area.

"The Forest Service's jaw dropped because they had not been informed about any of this," Bachman said. "All of a sudden, they're parking their helicopter."

Julie Thomas, spokeswoman for the Sawtooth National Forest, said the 1964 Wilderness Act gives the U.S. Forest Service authority to prevent or allow a helicopter to land in a wilderness area depending on a number of factors, including the condition of the patient.

Thomas said that if the patient can be more easily transported via a litter or other means, the Forest Service may not grant a landing request. She said safety of the pilot and crews on the ground is a factor, as well as whether there is a suitable landing spot for the aircraft.

Bachman said the responders would hold a briefing on July 31 to follow up on the incident. Despite the confusion, he said, the rescue was essentially a success.

"This guy got out," he said. "There was a positive outcome in a timely manner."

Kate Wutz:

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