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Fall into Crevasse, Washington, Mount Rainier, Emmons Flats

FALL INTO CREVASSE

Washington, Mount Rainier, Emmons Flats

On the morning of July 1, Ranger Sam Wick (27) climber Kevin Laney, and I left Camp Schurman around 06:00 for a summit climb. Conditions were excellent with good weather, light winds, and firm snow. Weascended to approximately 12,000 feet where Mr. Laney decided he could not continue ascending the route. Around 10:15, Ranger Wick and Mr. Laney stopped to rest and prepared to descend while I continued ascending toward the summit along with another group of climbers.

About 11:15, I received a radio call from Ranger Wick asking for help at Emmons Flats. However, he did not specify the nature of the incident. At this point I was at 13,500 feet. I was able to make a fast descent on skis to Emmons Flats. Arriving there I did not see Ranger Wick or any other activity, so I continued toward Schurman where I contacted Mr. Laney and was informed that Ranger Wick had not yet come into camp and was last seen above Emmons Flats. At this point I realized Ranger Wick had most likely fallen into a crevasse. I instructed Mr. Laney to return to Schurman, make contact with Anne Keller of International Mountain Guides (IMG), relay to her the situation, and help them assemble rescue and medical gear from the Ranger Hut.

I then started back uphill toward Emmons Flats to look for tracks that would help me locate Ranger Wick. At 11:48, I called park dispatch informing them of the situation and requested 780 (Lofgren) be contacted. I passed an Alpine Ascent International (AAI) group and requested help from their guides. I continued toward the area I thought Ranger Wick would most likely be and found his tracks ending at a crevasse. Around 11:51, I made voice contact with Ranger Wick and was able to approach the crevasse and make visual contact. I saw him lying on the bottom of a crevasse approximately 40 feet deep and 20 feet wide. He was alert and oriented, complaining of a painful and unstable right hip along with pain extending over his right side including ribs, lower back, elbow and both knees. He reported having labored but steady respirations, no external bleeding, no loss of consciousness and no head or neck pain. Based on this information I requested an air evacuation via park dispatch.

The AAI guides came on scene shordy after my initial contact led by senior guide Eric Murphy. I informed them of the situation and they immediately started preparing to lower personnel into the crevasse to farther assess and attend to Ranger Wick. Guides Eitan Green and Ben Floyd lowered guides Kjasa Krieger and Eric Murphy into the crevasse. IMG guides Ben Kurdt and Andy Polloczek had come onto the scene around this time and joined the work in progress.

Ms. Keller and Eric Gullickson from IMG arrived on the scene with medical and rescue gear from Schurman. We lowered these supplies into the crevasse along with Ms. Keller and Mr. Green to help with patient care and packaging. Once all the caregivers and equipment were safely in the crevasse, guides Gullickson, Kurdt, Polloczek, and Floyd began preparing a haul system to raise Ranger Wick out of the crevasse.

Around this time I made a phone call to Stefan Lofgren (Park Ranger) informing him that our patient was Sam Wick and gave a detailed report on his condition and of the overall situation. I was informed we would be able to do an air evac with the option of flying directly to the hospital. I then descended to Schurman to collect flight gear, along with additional rescue gear. Once I was back at the scene, the guides attending to Ranger Wick had him packaged and ready for extrication. We hauled Ranger Wick out of the crevasse and he was secured on the surface at 14:43.

Mr. Green and I prepared a landing zone approximately 100 meters away in the Emmons Flats area. Pilot Vince Lopardo with Worldwind Helicopters landed his A-Star on the glacier at 15:51 where Ranger Wick was loaded into the aircraft. I rode in the aircraft attending to Ranger Wick and working as helicopter crewmember. We departed Emmons Flats at 15:53 and flew directly to Harborview Hospital where Ranger Wick was turned over to the emergency department. (Source: Cooper Self, Park Ranger)

Analysis

In the area where Ranger wick skied into the crevasse, the terrain is relatively flat. Indeed, rangers and public commonly walk in this area unroped. Ranger Wick went over in this direction (which was only a few hundred feet off the common route) because the route was generally less broken. Ranger Wick said that he was surprised as he came over a roll to see a crevasse.

The board of review pointed out a few factors that may have contributed to this fall, including splitting up the team near the summit and not remaining in very close contact on the way down. (Source: Stefan Lofgren, Park Ranger, Mount Rainier National Park)

(Editor’s Note: It is important to include this narrative and the one preceding it so readers will understand that the possibility of falling into a crevasse on Mount Rainier does not preclude even the most experienced.)