Dramatic Rescue of Injured Climber on El Capitan

Watched part of a dramatic rescue in Yosemite Thursday. Find nothing about it on Yosemite site, Fresno Bee, or blog search.

UPDATE 5/24/07: Here’s a blog post from one of the participants. More serious than we knew: he was bleeding profusely. They lowered 2 rescuers with the litter, and then decided that it would take too long to lower him, so they did use the copter to rescue him. Amazing, given how close to the rock wall the copter would have had to be.

So here’s my understanding of what happened. Some of this I know, some was conjecture among the people watching from the meadow below, one of whom was wearing NPS volunteer cap and had a radio (NPS-V below), and seemed knowledgeable. He said they were keeping radio silence — my guess is, to avoid attracting tourists. Those of us watching had driven past and noticed 3 helicopters and numerous emergency vehicles parked in the area where people stop to watch El Cap climbers.

My pics are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/nvh/sets/72157600231353460/. I had my Canon S2IS set at max resolution, on a tripod. Since Flickr shows them in reverse order, best way to follow the story is to look at the set, which I rearranged in chronological order. Reviewing the images now, at large size, I can see a lot more than I could through the viewfinder.

A climber had suffered an “open femur fracture,” i.e. no way he was going up or down on his own. I never figured out which group had the injured climber – there were many climbing groups on the face, as is often the case at this time of year. We heard that they were all asked to stay in place. We did see some movement which we surmised to be some climbers already on the face joining the rescue, but remember that all these ledges are tiny — when climbers sleep overnight on El Cap, they use hammocks hung from the face because there’s no room to stretch out.

A California Highway Patrol helicopter made a reconnaissance run, hovering for some time very close to the climbers. Then came back to the meadow. PS-V said that hovering like that heats up the engine and helicopters can’t do it for long.

The CHP helicopter then went back and hovered close to the wall, and lowered a stretcher and, apparently, an EMT with it. We couldn’t really see the stretcher arrive (remember we’re talking a great height — I didn’t have binoculars, was using the zoom on my camera) but see the image above, clearly a stretcher being lowered with a person. This is amazing — the helicopter had to be right up against the rock, and had to drop the stretcher and person to a tiny ledge that barely stuck out from the rock face.

None of my pictures, unfortunately, show clearly where the stretcher ended up. My guess is the group on the point, but I’m not sure. And I don’t know where the injured person was — it’s possible that the stretcher and EMT were lowered to a more accessible ledge above the injured person.

The CHP helicopter then returned to the meadow, without the injured party.

Another helicopter took off, one NPS-V identified as NPS or US Forest Service. It was a much smaller copter, so it couldn’t have held many people. It disappeared behind El Cap, presumably landing on top. Stayed for quite a while, then left.   We in the meadow surmised that the plan was for rescuers to rappel down from the top of El Cap to help lower the injured climber.   UPDATE: it did take rescuers to the top to rappel down, but the climber was bleeding too badly to wait for that.  It’s possible that the climbers already on the scene would have done this, but they’re not likely to be trained to do this and that wouldn’t explain why the 2nd copter went to the top.

At this point, I left, figuring the rest of the rescue would be a long, slow process.  UPDATE: turns out it wasn’t — they had to get him out of there fast, and rescued him via copter. Amazing flying.

One response to “Dramatic Rescue of Injured Climber on El Capitan

  1. Great coverage and photos.

    An in-depth rescue report is now available on the Friends of Yosemite Search and Rescue website at:


    At this site you can also learn about and support the amazing group of people that make rescues like this possible.

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