Hiker fell and slid 600 feet

March 25, 1978
Near Tahquitz Peak

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By Kevin Walker

It seems that sometimes old mother luck just is not in your favor. My dad and I had just finished painting the front door to our house, and were preparing to have a late lunch (2:30), when the pager went off. We hastily re-hung the door, grabbed some snack food, and went out the door.

This aerial view of the Tahquitz ridge shows where the fall started (9) and where it ended (X). The arrow points (T) at the Tahquitz Peak Lookout. (photo by Jim Fairchild)Leaving behind a disaster of uncleaned paint brushes and cans for my mother and sister to clean, we headed for the Idyllwild fire station where the team was to meet. Enroute we had a wonderful view of the San Jacinto Mountains, looking up to the mountain we could easily see why there would be people using the backcountry. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and the temperature was in the upper 70's. What better conditions could one have, except for one little item, deep snow still carpeted the ground, and in the shade, ice was also a problem. For this reason RMRU was called. We were informed that a young man hiking on the Devil's Slide trail had slipped and fallen some distance. It looked as if it would be a long afternoon and evening before we completed our task.

Upon reaching Idyllwild we were told by the informant that the young man in question had indeed fallen and injured himself, but the location of the injury was not where we had been told. He had slipped off the snow and ice covered ridge just below Tahquitz Peak. According to the informant he had fallen approximately 600 feet down an ice chute, severely burning himself on the ice, and possibly fracturing his right ankle. Walt immediately requested from Capt. Ray Canova of the Banning sheriff's office that Don Landells be contacted and asked to fly to the Camp Maranatha ball park. We then headed over to Camp Maranatha where base would be set up. Shortly after arriving at the camp we were joined by fellow team member John Dew. As we were preparing our packs for the task at hand, Capt. Canova arrived followed by Jim Fairchild in Riverside 2, the newest of the two vans that RMRU has. Kevin Walker and the injured young man appear to have been amused by the story told by Walt Walker as they waited for the helicopter to bring the air splint. (Photo by Jim Fairchild)The plan was as follows, Walt would go in with Don to find out what the situation was, and find out what kind of equipment would be needed for the operation. If he needed assistance, he would be followed in by Jim and myself.

Not long after we had finished packing we heard the familiar sound of the chop-chop and high pitched whine of Don Landells jet Ranger. Upon his arrival at the camp he told Walt that he had seen a young man on a large rock about 6,50 feet below the summit. With the gear in the bird, Don and Walt departed for the steep icy chutes of the mountain. After what seemed like years (actually only 10 minutes), Don radioed that he was returning to base to pick up Jim and 1, and that we would need a full leg air splint. We quickly pulled a splint out of the first aid drawer and made ready for the flight in. We were also told that we would not need our packs, so with Don just arriving, we buckled in, and in what would take several hours on foot, we did in less than five minutes. We were fortunate enough to land in a one runner mode on the same rock that the young man had crawled to after he finally came to rest. With Don hovering out about 1,000 feet away from us, Jim Fairchild with camera in hand, I lifting the young mans pant leg, and my dad placing the air splint on the swollen ankle, only one task remained, blowing the air splint up. Guess who had to do it the newest support member, ME . . .

With all being ready, we called Don. Don came back and pushed one runner in to the snow bank and held power to the other, Jim and Walt lifted him in on one side while I reached through on the other side and helped pull him across. Jim joined the hiker in the back seat, and with the old thumbs up from my dad Don pulled up on the collective (rotor blade pitch) and lifted up for the flight back to base. Veteran mountain pilot Don Landells maneuvered his Bell Jet Ranger to a soft touch down of the runners with the aid from hand signals given by RMRU member Kevin Walker. (photo by Jim Fairchild)After a short wait, which was not long considering just how great the view was, Don returned. We climbed into the bird and headed up to Tahquitz Peak where we had been asked to pick up the informants pack. With that task completed, RMRU's work was finished.

After the usual hand shake and compliments to Don for his SUPER flying, which makes our job a whole lot faster, we said goodbye to a really super person.

After all the gear was placed back in the van, the question arose, where are we going for dinner? Jokingly John Dew said why not the Chart House ... and the Capt. said fine, so off we went for a really fine steak dinner.