American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall into Crevasse, Inadequate Extrication Procedure, Alaska, Mount McKinley, Ruth Glacier

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1997

FALL INTO CREVASSE, INADEQUATE EXTRICATION PROCEDURE

Alaska, Mount McKinley, Ruth Glacier

On June 16, all six members of the French “Wayne’s World” expedition including Thomas Roques, Jean Jacques Peladeix, Jacqueline Peladeix, Michelle Pertuis, Jean Pierre Pertuis, and expedition leader Peter Dutrievoz were airlifted by helicopter from the Ruth Glacier after Michelle Pertuis (50) sustained injuries from a fall into and then extrication from a crevasse.

The expedition had planned ten days to travel from the Don Sheldon Amphitheater, down the Ruth Glacier, and to exit it by following Alder Creek to the Tokositna River where they were to meet guide Michael Overcast with a raft and float out to Talkeetna. On July 14, after being flown to the Mountain House air strip by Hudson Aviation, the group traveled by foot pulling sleds approximately one mile down glacier and made camp. On the 15th, the group continued down glacier and at 1300, Michelle Pertuis fell in a crevasse. Leader Dutrievoz reports that Michelle fell up to her waist and was extracted by the other rope team members simply by pulling her out without using any pulley system. Once out of the crevasse Michelle reported sharp pains in her upper left quadrant. The group made camp shortly after this incident near the base of Mt. Dickey. While at this camp Dutrievoz reports that Michelle tripped and fell which may have exacerbated her abdominal injury. On July 16, the expedition attempted to continue down glacier. Michelle was unable to carry any weight and continued to complain of sharp pain.

At 1250 air taxi Doug Geeting Aviation dispatch relayed that the pilot Doug Geeting, while on a scenic flight, had received a request for helicopter evacuation from a group on the Ruth Glacier. The Talkeetna Ranger Station contacted the Rescue Coordination Center at 1330 and at 1400 a Pavehawk helicopter was en route to the accident site. At 1509 a 185 Cessna contracted from K2 Aviation was launched as cover ship from Talkeetna with Pilot Richard Almsted, Ranger Joe Reichert, and Ken Zaffren, M.D., aboard. At 1530 the Air Force helicopter landed and picked up all six members of the expedition and flew them directly to Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage, where Michelle Pertuis was treated and released with thoracic and kidney bruising.

Analysis

Expedition leader Peter Dutrievoz reported that Pertuis’ fall into the crevasse was slow and nondynamic and that she did not experience any pain until she was pulled out of the crevasse. Injuries might have been avoided if more time and less force were used in extracting Pertuis from the crevasse.

Evacuation of all six members was not necessary. Dutrievoz stated he did not want to send Pertuis out alone due to her anxiety and language barrier and that group morale was too low to continue. Neither of these reasons would warrant evacuation of more than the injured person in most rescue situations in the Alaska Range. However, this appears to be a difference in perception by Europeans, who are used to frequent helicopter evacs (NB: 800 missions a year average out of Zermatt alone), and who have rescue insurance. (Source: Billy Shott, Mountaineering Ranger)

(Editor’s Note: This provides us with another example of why we should charge such parties for the costs of rescue.)

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