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Grand Teton National Park Rangers Resort to Short-Haul Method to Rescue Injured Climber


In a "short-haul" rescue, injured individuals are placed in a litter that's dangled below a helicopter for a short, and quick, ride to safety. NPS photo.

A climbing accident on one of Grand Teton National Park's less-heralded peaks forced rangers to use a helicopter "short-haul" to remove the injured climber from the mountain.

In a short-haul, the rescued party is dangled beneath a helicopter, usually in a litter, with an accompanying ranger. The aerial evacuation might seem daunting, but Grand Teton rangers have used the method time and again to quickly get an injured individual to medical care.

In the most recent incident, rangers hauled Sam Russell, 22, of Jackson, Wyoming, from Teewinot Mountain after he was injured Saturday afternoon while descending the 12,325-foot peak with friends. Mr. Russell sustained serious injuries when he slipped on snow and tumbled about 200 feet before landing on a break between two snow patches, while attempting to descend the North West Couloir roughly 300 feet below the summit. He was wearing crampons and carrying an ice axe at the time, but was unable to perform a self arrest, according to rangers.

Mr. Russell’s climbing party had successfully reached the summit of Teewinot and was on its way down when the accident occurred; all of the climbers had ice axes and crampons, but none was wearing helmets. The group decided to make their decent via the South West Couloir but missed their intended route and ended up on the more technical North West Couloir.

Grand Teton rangers were notified of the accident at around 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, when Mr. Russell’s companions placed a call for help from a cell phone. Rangers immediately organized a rescue operation and requested the assistance of an interagency contract helicopter for support in the rescue operation. The helicopter flew to Lupine Meadows, picked up several rangers, and performed an aerial reconnaissance flight. Rangers were able to remain in contact via cell phone with a member of Russell’s climbing party, which was helpful in pinpointing his location on the mountain.

A suitable helicopter landing zone near the accident site allowed rangers to arrive on scene just before 2 p.m. Rangers provided Mr. Russell with emergency medical care before placing him into a rescue litter for aerial evacuation. He was then flown via the short-haul method at 2:30 p.m. directly to the Jenny Lake rescue cache located on the valley floor. A park ambulance transported the climberl to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson for further treatment of his injuries.

Park rangers also evacuated Mr. Russell’s companions via helicopter after helping them descend to the high west shoulder of Teewinot Mountain.

This was the first major mountain rescue operation in Grand Teton this summer


Sam Russell is actually from Enon, Ohio and is a student (senior) at Wabash College. He is on internship at Three Creeks Ranch.

Thanks for the update, Tom. Hopefully he's on the way to a full recovery.

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