Helmet saves mans life on Crestone Needle Fall

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Custer County Search and Rescue members were again stretched thin this past week, with missions spanning five consecutive days.

On Wednesday, August 10th, CCSAR was activated to search for a PA man, who hadn’t been heard from in a week.  Family and friends became concerned when the man didn’t respond to text messages wishing him a happy 70th birthday.  James Beckerich, from West Chester PA, hadn’t been heard from since August 3rd, when he sent a text message saying he had turned around short of his summit bid and was working his way down the mountain.  An accomplished climber, Beckerich was training for an upcoming guided trip in Washington State.  He had also been to Everest on a failed summit bid, as well as many other successful climbs to his credit.

Flight for Life assisted ground teams in an aerial search on Wednesday afternoon and both the man’s vehicle and campsite were located the first day.  Beckerich had also signed into the Horn Lakes Trail register, indicating that he planned to summit Fluted Peak.  Ground crews failed to turn up any additional clues on Wednesday.

Plans for the next day, included support by an additional team from Western State Mountain Rescue and logistical support from the Colorado State Rescue Board (CSRB).   The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, (AFRCC), at Tyndall AFB in Florida garnered “forensic data” from the man’s cell phone, which significantly narrowed the search area and the Colorado National Guard at Buckley AFB in Aurora, inserted ground teams along the ridgeline, via a UH-60 Blackhawk, while another three man team hiked back into the Horn Lakes drainage.

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SAR teams located the man, just before noon on Thursday August 11th.  He had apparently fallen to his death while descending midway along the ridgeline on August 3rd.  The recovery concluded at 4pm, with all teams back at base.

CCSAR was again activated, at 10:22 on Friday August 12th, for a fall with injuries in the west couloir on Crestone Needle at 13,700 feet.  Utilizing FFL’s “Lift Ticket” program, the first three ground teams of technical climbers and EMT’s were inserted by helicopter to Cottonwood Lake.  Additional resources, including a four person WSMRT, hiked into the scene.

Tim Hunek, age 57 from Rexford NY, had fallen on descent.  His son was brought to safety by ground teams, while other SAR resources worked the technical terrain throughout the night.  Hunek was flown from Cottonwood Lake to Pueblo at 9:30 on Saturday morning.  He was later transferred to a Denver hospital for further treatment.  Hunek’s climbing helmet was credited by FFL medical personnel as having saved his life, although he also suffered numerous fractures and other injuries.  The mission concluded at 2:00pm, with all personnel back at base.  CCSAR members further supported the Western State team, by shuttling them back to Gunnison.

On Sunday, August 14th, CCSAR resources were again deployed.  This time in support of Pueblo County, for an ankle injury below Lake San Isabel at a popular “natural water slide”.  Ground teams transported the injured 31 year old woman by litter to a CCSAR ATV, who brought the woman to the waiting ambulance for transport.  That relatively short response, concluded at 3:45 pm.

The subjects of these recent missions did not have CORSAR cards, to help the team recoup expenses.  The Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue card provides funding support to county sheriffs’ departments statewide to ensure that SAR teams have the equipment and training to help lost and/or injured people.  They can be purchased online, or at any of 300 vendors statewide, including CCSAR and Take a Hike locally.

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