Difficult rescue on Thunder Mountain

SEDONA -- Sedona Fire District (SFD) was dispatched to what seemed to be a routine emergency medical call on the south face of Thunder Mountain Saturday afternoon. But crews soon realized it would not be a routine.

The patient fell from the cliff face and landed in a brush-filled ravine high on the slope. In addition to the difficult location, the man was using an international cell phone making triangulation impossible.

Crews split up and made multiple ascents trying to make voice contact. The patient told crews he fell more than 20 feet and was severely hurt. "I could tell by the pain in his voice, he had significant injuries and was not doing well," said Incident Commander Jayson Coil. "As the incident progressed, I knew his condition was getting worse."

Visual contact with the man was not made until after 5 p.m., three hours into the operation.

Brian Ford was first to arrive and begin treatment. "I could see him about 30 yards below my position, but the terrain was too technical to make direct access. I had to climb back up the mountain and over and scramble down an alternate route and that took 25 minutes," said Ford.

Firefighter Brent Johnson, specially trained in helicopter rescue operations was in the Department of Public Safety helicopter hovering at the face of the mountain. Johnson would rappel from the hovering helicopter down to Ford. Another SFD paramedic was also able to make it to the patient to provide the treatment the injured man needed. It was very difficult to get the helicopter in so close to the mountain. The DPS pilot got so close that the helicopter's rotor blades were literally 10 feet from the ravine walls.

By 6:39 p.m., the patient was packaged to be transported in a litter attached to a rope and hauled below the helicopter. "It was amazing to see the helicopter flying through the sky, with a patient and a firefighter dangling 100 feet below," Fire Chief Kris Kazian stated. "I feel blessed to have such a great team serving our community."

At the Sedona airport, the patient was transferred to a medical helicopter to be taken to the trauma team at Flagstaff Medical Center. After collecting their gear, the remaining crews on the mountain made their way down to the trailhead. All SFD personnel were off the mountain by 7:42 p.m.

"Due to the arduous nature of the rescue and extended operation our people ran out of water at one point and we had to send another man up just to provide water. In the space of five hours some of the firefighters traversed the slope multiple times in 100-degree heat until they located the patient. Their hard work paid off. If they had not located him when they did he may have had a much different outcome," Coil said.

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