American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Searches, Rescues, And Recoveries in North American Alpine Areas, First Annual Report of the Rescue Operations Committee

  • Editorials And Prefaces
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1963

A Joint Committee of the American Alpine Club and the Mountain Rescue Association

In this pioneer effort to report on alpine rescue in North America no attempt will be made to cover all rescue efforts. In future years, however, as the reporting procedures become more complete, a statistical summary will indicate the scope of total mountain rescue activity. The report will consist of four sections:

An Introductory Statement

Complete reports and comments on selected rescue operations

The statistical summary

A table of Mountain Rescue Groups in North America

Rescue operations included will not necessarily relate to mountaineering accidents. Instead, the criteria for selection will include such factors as:

New or unique techniques in method or equipment

Lessons that may be useful to other rescuers

Unusual medical problems

The following general statements may be helpful to those who are not familiar with some of the administrative problems related to organized rescue groups.

Legal Responsibility

The responsibility for effecting rescues or recoveries always rests with governmental groups. As a general rule, in the United States, the Sheriff of the county is usually responsible. In National Parks, the National Park Service has the responsibility. When military personnel are the subject of the search or rescue, the Air Force is the responsible agency. Occasionally, some other governmental group may have overall responsibility. Mountain rescue groups, the U. S. Forest Service, the Ski Patrol, and other such agencies never have ultimate responsibility, only delegated responsibility, and serve at the pleasure of the responsible agency. Help can only be offered, and if the delegation is not forthcoming, the Mountain Rescue group is powerless to act. Frequently there is an overlapping of legal responsibility; i.e. the crash of a military aircraft in a National Park. Usually such responsible agencies work in harmony, but occasionally a rescue group is confronted with conflicting delegation. In order to provide maximum service in the field, rescue groups spend much time in interpreting their capabilities to responsible agencies. Since it is essential that these relationships be kept as positive as possible, it will not be advisable to report all aspects of some rescue operations.


For at least twenty years, rescue groups have been hampered with patchwork, and borrowed radio communications, usually supplied by

Civil Defense, State Patrol, the armed forces, and Sheriffs, and usually on different frequencies. Contact between air search, teams in the field, and base operations has often been non-existent. On extensive, lengthy searches, the result has been chaos. Following the 1960 Mt. McKinley rescue, in which six rescue groups and innumerable other agencies were involved, the MRA authorized a special committee to try to develop a solution. As a result, the MRA has been licensed by the FCC under the Special Emergency Radio Section to operate on 155.16 MC in Washington and Oregon and plans to extend coverage to other MRA member units as need arises. Idaho, Southern California, and Arizona are now considering extension. The license allows operation for emergencies and scheduled training. Mobiles, temporary bases, and light weight (9 pound, 1 watt) portables are in operation. The portables, which are not affected by weather, operate effectively more than 100 miles in line of sight, and occasionally as much as 25 miles in extremely rough terrain. Some cooperating and responsible agencies are arranging the addition of this frequency on their mobiles for coordination. For specific information address inquiries to Dorrell E. Looff, Mountain Rescue Association, P. O. Box 67, Seattle 11, Washington.

In order to prepare the statistical summary in future years, all known Mountain Rescue groups will be supplied with a special form to summarize activity. A form for reporting specific rescue operations is enclosed with this pamphlet, and additional copies may be secured through the Mountain Rescue Association or the American Alpine Club. The committee requests submission of this form on any rescue that you consider interesting enough for possible inclusion. Mail to Rescue Operations Committee, P. O. Box 67, Seattle 11, Washington.

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