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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2 weeks in July…

Custer County Search and Rescue had an extremely busy two weeks in mid-July.  Beginning July 9th, a 54 year old Denver woman was reported to be seriously ill above tree-line on Humboldt Peak; suffering from AMS, along with reporting sign and symptoms consistent with a coronary event.  Teams deployed at night, to the Humboldt saddle, but later learned from ongoing conversations with the subject via cell phone, that she was somewhere along the East Ridge instead of the standard route.

The first “hasty” team arrived to the patient’s location at 13,300’ at 02:20 on Sunday, July 10th.  The patient’s condition was assessed and she was then walked down some 1,200 feet by headlamp, to  a landing zone, where she was kept warm, prior to being transferred to Flight for Life at 07:30 and flown to St. Mary Corwin for further evaluation.  All teams returned to base and were released at 12:00pm; only to receive a 2nd call-out at approximately 15:30 hours.

The 2nd call-out, was a mutual aid request from Saguache County, after they received a 911 call indicating that a man had fallen some 100 feet on Crestone Needle and could not be located.  John Stephen Hunt, 55 of Parker Colorado, fell late Sunday afternoon in the fall, after descending off-route. His climbing partner, who witnessed the fall, notified law enforcement.  Mr. Hunt had reportedly climbed all 54 Colorado 14-ers, some more than once and had climbed Crestone Needle at least twice before.   A Saguache SAR hasty team was inserted via Flight for Life, located the body and stayed on scene Sunday night.

A 3rd member of the party, who had turned back when he felt the conditions exceeded his ability, became disoriented and also requested assistance, by alerting his family of his situation. They contacted law enforcement and a CCSAR team located that individual and brought him to Westcliffe Sunday night, resulting in a 3rd call in 24 hours.

On Monday, July 11th, a three person Custer County SAR team coordinated with the two person Saguache team to manage lowering operations and transfer the man’s body to the landing zone, completing that operation at 10:45 Monday.  Mechanical and logistical issues with Flight for Life prevented completion of the recovery mission and the effort was aborted at 17:30 hours, with both teams hiking out together, via Broken Hand Pass, arriving in Westcliffe at 23:15.  During their descent of Broken Hand Pass, CCSAR was called upon to assist another individual off the mountain, belaying the man down Broken Hand Pass.   On Tuesday, July 12th, a team of two from Western State Mountain Rescue team, (WSMRT) relieved local rescue teams to complete the recovery mission with Flight for Life.

Friday, July 15th, CCSAR was again called out, this time to assist Pueblo County SAR with a difficult litter carryout of a woman with a leg injury in a popular area below Lake San Isabel.

On Sunday evening, July 17th, a pair of stranded climbers on Crestone Needle who were in need of rescue, contacted 911 for assistance.  Like the Hunt party, they had descended off route and were stranded just above where Hunt’s body had been located.   The pair confirmed their location using a compass application on their smart phone, providing their coordinates to search base, who plotted both mission’s coordinates.

The 29 year old Denver woman and 34 year old Denver man had adequate resources to stay secure for the night and SAR teams were dispatched at 4am to retrieve the pair after daybreak.  They were safely lowered to the ground just before noon and the pair was walked out with SAR teams, arriving back at search base at 17:15.

Despite trail head kiosks warning of the dangers of descending off-route, popular forums such as 14ers.com and modern navigation tools; SAR teams continue to see climbers encounter difficulty and even death, when descending off route, when they choose to continue to descend, rather than regaining safe ground by climbing back up to find the trail, which on the return heads generally east along the ridge back to BHP. Descending Crestone Needle off-route leads to well documented terrain traps or worse.

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Fall on Snow

Custer County Search and Rescue was activated by the Custer County Sheriff’s Office at 15:01 on Friday, June 24th for a 64 old male party from Colorado Springs who had fallen, hit a rock and had severe head injuries. Teams were deployed to the Peerless Mine area near the Duckett Creek trail head, to access the patient who had reportedly fallen above the Lower Brush Creek Lake.

The fall had reportedly occurred at approximately 13:30 hours, while the man and his climbing partner were descending on snow. The two were camped in the area and had climbed Lakes Peak and Thirsty Peak, (both 13-ers). Around 11,800 feet, the party slipped and fell 25-30 feet head first, hitting a rock, then falling an estimated 100 additional feet, on snow. The climbing partner reported that he had assisted the patient for more than an hour, prior to hiking out enough, to obtain cell service to active SAR. Two individuals in an unrelated party also gave assistance, with the subject walking out under his own power for some time.

SAR Teams were able to reach the patient at 17:30 hours and continued to slowly make their way out with the ambulatory patient, for a time. Just outside the wilderness boundary, the patient suffered complications and an urgenct extraction was requested. That extraction involved additional ground team members, two ATV teams and the ATV litter trailer. EMS was inserted by ATV Team 1, where a Custer County EMS EMT joined another EMT already on scene at 19:00 hours. The patient was evacuated via a stokes litter and the ATV trailer to Med 4, awaiting at the Duckett Creek Trailhead, where he was transported to an area hospital for treatment.

Fifteen CCSAR personnel responded, staffing Search Base, Hasty, Ground, Horse and ATV teams. One member of the Custer County Sheriff’s department also dispatched to the scene, as well as two EMS personnel. The mission was completed and all SAR members were released at 22:10.

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