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Home » Archives » July 2018 » CG & OIFR Rescues Hiker From Fall Off Cliff

[Previous entry: "Spooky Tales - Orcas Ghosts & Gremlins"]

07/06/2018: "CG & OIFR Rescues Hiker From Fall Off Cliff"


ig_G_USCG_MH-65-Dolphin-001 (46k image)
(Screen grab of USCG rescue photo)


A Coast Guard aircrew hoisted an hiker after she suffered head and back injuries from a fall off a cliff on Obstruction Island, Wednesday. An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles transferred the hiker at Bellingham International Airport to emergency medical service personnel, who took her to PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center for further care.

The patient had fallen approximately 100 feet down a steep embankment, landing on a rocky coastline. The initial response was complicated as the beach was not accessible by vehicle and required a marine response from the OIFR Marine Response and Transport (MRAT) team. Lieutenant 26, Geoff Nelson, responded in his personal boat to transport BC Kiniski and other OIFR members to the remote beach location.


Ultimately, it was determined the only safe method of extricating the patient from the scene, was to enlist the aid of the US Coast Guard.

Around 10:30 p.m. watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound received the hoist request from members of the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office.

“Paramedics on the scene had administered CPR for approximately 20 minutes before gaining the slightest pulse,” said Lt. Jacob Marks, one of the two helicopter pilots involved in the response. “The helicopter arrived on scene and assessed the challenges of the confined cove, surrounded by 50 to 100 foot-tall trees and a steep sloping terrain.”

Marks and the other pilot relied on night vision goggles to maintain a separation between the helicopter and the terrain. The rescue swimmer was lowered and traversed the cliffs to meet the ground party who were helping the patient breathe using a bag-valve mask.

In order to maintain her breathing, the hiker and rescue swimmer were hoisted simultaneously.

“Remarkably the crew was able to execute this hoist in extremely challenging conditions while maintaining critical life support to the survivor,” said Marks.

A paramedic was also hoisted, so that they could continue to provide care from aboard the helicopter, and was transferred along with the hiker at the airport.

According to Chief Scott Williams, "It is difficult to describe the challenges this situation presented to the OIFR responders." The initial difficulty in reaching the patient was only the beginning of a complicated resuscitation and rescue. Occupants of Obstruction Island had performed CPR on the patient for an extended period of time. OIFR members responded to find a critically injured patient and began providing treatment on the rocky beach, on a remote island, in the darkness of the night. Lack of proper lighting, poor radio reception communications, spotty cell phone communications, changing tides, obtaining necessary medical equipment, and safety for the patient were some of the challenging factors in coordinating this rescue. A command post was established at the Lieberhaven Marina manned by FF Tony Simpson. He was able to maintain contact with the crews on Obstruction Island, the boat crew shuttling manpower and equipment, San Juan County Dispatch, San Juan County Medical Director, and the Coast Guard and relay vital information.

The USCG pilot on the rescue helicopter did an incredible job in maneuvering the rotor craft into position near the patient, in spite of the forest and rocky terrain. The Rescue Swimmer and was then lowered out of the helicopter, along with a basket, in order to transfer the patient and paramedic to the helicopter. "We are fortunate to have the USCG and USN nearby to protect and provide emergency service to our islands," says Chief Williams.

Throughout the over three hour incident, the patient and all responders were subjected to cooler night temperatures, ocean water, sand, and uneven ground to maneuver on. A majority of that time was spent on that rocky coastline providing medical support to the patient in that austere environment. The combined efforts of residents on Obstruction island who initially provided life-saving CPR, dispatchers, OIFR personnel, on-line medical direction from the county’s emergency physician and Medical Director, and the Coast Guard crew all helped to facilitate the critical emergency medical procedures needed to keep the patient in a stable but critical condition.

Chief Williams expressed his feelings of the incident by saying, "I am extremely proud of the of the Orcas Island Fire and Rescue responders who mobilized and took part in this incident. I also want to thank the other OIFR members who maintained watch on Orcas Island and waited to provide support to this community. Our Medical Director is very dedicated to San Juan County and continuously provides on-line medical support to our responders and the patients they are treating. The San Juan County Dispatch center is staffed with amazing individuals who work behind the scenes. Dispatch personnel provided a multitude of supportive actions ranging from over-the-phone CPR instruction to non-medical bystanders initially helping the patient to coordinating the radio traffic of multiple apparatus and personnel, calling local resources/hospitals, contacting and coordinating Coast Guard; all while , answering additional calls for 911 and managing the same needs for county wide for responders and law enforcement."

All of the volunteer and staff members of Orcas Island Fire and Rescue go above and beyond to serve their community. On this night, OIFR wishes to recognize the following responders who aided in this heroic rescue: Battalion Chief Paramedic Nick Kiniski, Hilary Canty, Alex Conrad, Jennifer Corbin, Dennis Dahl, Dean Dougherty, Cameron Fralick, Trent Johns, Selby Lighthill, Rosalyn Montgomery,Geoff Nelson, William Nutt, Shawn Simpson, Tony Simpson, and Mark O'Neill.

“Paramedics on the scene had administered CPR for approximately 20 minutes before gaining the slightest pulse,” said Lt. Jacob Marks, one of the two helicopter pilots involved in the response. “The helicopter arrived on scene and assessed the challenges of the confined cove, surrounded by 50 to 100 foot-tall trees and a steep sloping terrain.”

Marks and the other pilot relied on night vision goggles to maintain a separation between the helicopter and the terrain. The rescue swimmer was lowered and traversed the cliffs to meet the ground party who were helping the patient breathe using a bag-valve mask.

In order to maintain her breathing, the hiker and rescue swimmer were hoisted simultaneously.

“Remarkably the crew was able to execute this hoist in extremely challenging conditions while maintaining critical life support to the survivor,” said Marks.

A paramedic was also hoisted, so that they could continue to provide care from aboard the helicopter, and was transferred along with the hiker at the airport.

The hiker's residence and condition after transfer unknown.

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