Failure of Rappel, No Hard Hat, Inadequate Protection, Inexperience

Publication Year: 1982.


Wyoming, Tetons

Around 4:30 p.m. on September 7, 1981, Joe Bailey (23) was descending from the summit of Nez Perce. He set up a rappel at 11,500 feet despite the fact that his partners had down- climbed the pitch and urged him to do the same. He anchored to a large boulder that was lying on the ledge he was about to descend from. As he stepped over the edge, the boulder dislodged and pulled his anchor loose.

Bailey fell approximately 100 feet before hitting a large ledge and then somersaulting another 50 feet to the edge of the same ledge. His five climbing partners, who were waiting on the ledge, saw the fall and were immediately at his side. Bill Rosqvist briefly examined the injured climber, and instructed the others to stay with Bailey and to do what they could for him; then he departed for Lupine Meadows to get help.

At 7:10 p.m., he arrived at Ranger Bob Irvine’s cabin where he was met by Rangers Irvine, Hollis, Harris and Patterson. As coordinator, Patterson instructed Harris to round up the available rescue team and have them ready to go out overnight as soon as possible.

They were unable to get a Forest Service helicopter, so Kjerstad was contracted. At 8:15 p.m., Harris and McQuarie had landed in the south fork of Garnet Canyon with emergency medical supplies. No other flights were attempted because of poor light.

Patterson contacted Scott Air Force Base and requested a Chinook helicopter with winch capabilities, and was told that it would be there at 11:00 a.m. on September 8. They scheduled the Forest Service helicopter to arrive at daylight, 6:30 a.m., on September 8.

By 11:00 p.m. McQuarie and Harris had arrived at the accident site. It was their opinion that Bailey could not be lowered without a substantial risk to his life. Shortly after 10:00 p.m., Dr. Kendrick (E.R.—St. John’s Hospital) advised us that Bailey’s condition was critical and his only chance for survival was to be evacuated as quickly as possible. Walt Dabney, S. D. Ranger, approved a live sling operation with the Jet Ranger if, in the opinion of the Forest Service pilot, Phil Fillingham, it could be “reasonably” executed.

The weather forecast was very good. Hence the decision was made to send up the rescue team with only their personal gear and medical supplies. The plan was to sling load the needed technical gear in at daylight.

After reconning the site, Fillingham said he could sling the gear in and the victim out. By 7:30 a.m. the gear had been delivered. At 8:30 a.m., Bailey was lifted off Nez Perce and brought to Lupine Meadows; by 8:44 a.m., he was evacuated via helicopter to St. John’s Hospital. Patterson accompanied Bailey to the hospital. (Source: John Carr, Grand Teton National Park)


Bailey tried to rappel from a questionable anchor. Had he taken the time to explore the area, he could have located good anchors.

Bailey probably would have died of his injuries if climbing Rangers Harris and McQuarie had not climbed to him at night and provided advanced medical treatment. Consulting directly with the local hospital through a radio-phone patch, they used heat packs, intravenous therapy and specialized drugs to keep Bailey alive until daybreak, when helicopter opera- tions could proceed.

Ranger Chuck Harris put it this way. “In my estimation, Joe Bailey’s life was saved by the quick response and efforts of National Park and Forest Service personnel. The action of sling loading him alive beneath the helicopter saved unknown hours of difficult and dangerously- unstable lowering (to a helispot) that most probably would have cost him his life.

“In total, it was the most remarkable event I have ever been involved in during my experience with the National Park Service. The degree of competence and cooperation shown by all those involved in the rescue operation was truly amazing, and cannot be adequately expressed here in words. I am very proud to be a member of such a group.” (Source: Craig Patterson, Ranger, Grand Teton National Park)