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Appendicitis, Alaska, Mount McKinley, Muldrow Glacier


Alaska, Mount McKinley, Muldrow Glacier

On June 19 at 2345, a National Outdoor Leadership School expedition requested a helicopter to evacuate a sick student located at 7,200 feet on the Muldrow Glacier.

At 0900 that day, Tilney felt nauseous, and had abdominal pain located in the lower right quadrant. At the time they were carrying loads. Tilney’s symptoms got worse, so the expedition stopped at 1400 and made camp at 7,200 feet. Tilney’s symptoms included vomiting, fever of 102 F, and continued severe pain localized in the lower right quadrant of the abdomen. NOLS leaders, who have EMT and Wilderness First Responder Training, determined that Tilney was most likely suffering from appendicitis. Tilney was given two Pepto-Bismol and then rested. The leaders used a cell phone to contact the NOLS headquarters in Palmer. They contacted Denali National Park requesting an evacuation of Tilney. The NOLS expedition prepared a helicopter landing zone near their camp site. This landing zone later proved to be advantageous to the pilot.

At 2345 the Talkeetna Ranger Station was contacted and the LAMA helicopter along with a cover ship was dispatched. A uniform cloud layer with a ceiling at 9,500 feet obstructed most of the range. A favorable route was found that allowed the aircraft’s access to the Muldrow glacier. The NOLS expedition carried an aircraft radio enabling air to ground communication, and the aircraft zeroed in on their location. The landing zone was encircled by weighted duffels and packs allowing the LAMA pilot to identify it in poor visibility.

Tilney was picked up at 0205 and transported to Talkeetna at 0239. He was given an IV, transferred to Life Flight, and flown to Alaska Regional Hospital. He was admitted to surgery for an appendectomy.


Tilney’s evacuation was precisely executed due to several factors. First, the ability to recognize the signs and symptoms of appendicitis. Second, the communication equipment carried by the NOLS expedition allowed them to contact help from a remote area. Expeditions prepared for the worst case scenario increase their probability of avoiding a disaster in the field. (Source: Denali National Park—Talkeetna Subdistrict Ranger Station)