A man from the Nanaimo area is recovering in a Lower Mainland hospital from multiple injuries, including a “significant injury” to his head after falling some 20 metres on Mount Arrowsmith and following a “high-risk operation” involving a helicopter.
Paul Berry, a search manager with Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue, said the man was hiking with two other men on Mount Arrowsmith when he slipped.
“As I say, Mount Arrowsmith still has a significant amount of snow,” he said. “That snow was slippery, the conditions were wet and slippery as well.”
The man, added Berry, slipped on rocks before falling, then “finally, sliding pretty much face first down a snow field.”
Dave Poulsen, president of the Alberni Valley Rescue Squad (AVRS), said the AVRS was called by BC Ambulance to initiate a rescue on Mount Arrowsmith on Saturday afternoon. Two AVRS teams were dispatched, by ground and helicopter.
“The weather was just horrible,” said Poulsen. “By fluke, [the helicopter team] timed it just right. The man had slipped and fallen a significant distance. He had sustained serious injuries due to the fall, but he was in relatively good spirits and we were able to stabilize him.”
Berry said he could not disclose any further details about the man and his travel companions. All were “relatively seasoned hikers” in their late 50s, early 60s, he said.
Berry said the man fell around 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon. The AVRS arrived on scene around 3:30 p.m.
“That team then hiked down to assess his injuries,” he said. “The conditions were not good throughout the operation.” They included heavy clouds, high winds, and heavy wet snow, said Berry. “Additional teams were not able to get in until later in the evening, when we had a bit of break in the weather.”
The AVRS contacted search and rescue teams from Campbell River and the Comox Valley for assistance, and rescuers eventually retrieved the hiker with the help of a helicopter from Ascent Helicopters based in Parkville.
“Utilizing a helicopter hoist rescue is always a rescue of last resort,” said Berry. “We hope that we can move a subject without having to conduct a high risk operation,” he said. “However, in these conditions, it was the best tool to be able to extract him quickly and get him to higher level care.”
By the time, ambulance crews could care for him, seven hours had passed, said Berry.
“He was conscious and talking to his rescuers throughout,” he said. “Again, I’m not a doctor, but he was in the best possible care when he was turned over to the advanced life support ambulance crews.”
Poulsen said that the man’s travel companions were able to hike down on their own and were turned over to BC Ambulance.
“They had some exposure issues, but no injuries,” said Poulsen.
Berry said that the operation was challenging because of the weather, altitude and environment. While crews were familiar with the area because of previous incidents, they only had a few small openings because of the weather.
“Mother Nature determines that,” Berry said. “The skilled pilots from Ascent Helicopters were able to find a route and determine when there was a break in the clouds to be able to effect the rescue.”
Another complicating factor was the fading light, prompting crews to contemplate alternatives.
“Plans were underway to contact [442 Transport and Rescue Squadron],” said Berry. “However, given the weather conditions, it would have been equally as difficult for them to access the subject. They can’t fly if they can’t see either. So the backup plan was to probably stay with the patient through the night if we had to. We got into a rescue operation with that in mind. While part of the team was staying with the patient and keeping him stable as best they could, others would have been climbing to begin a rescue down the mountain, packing him down. But that would have entailed hundreds of searchers, hundreds of rescuers.”
Looking at larger lessons, Berry said it is “absolutely essential” that people travelling in the backcountry familiarize themselves with the conditions that they might face and fully prepare themselves.
“The weather was probably not ideal,” he said.
— with files from Wolf Depner