Black Hawk helicopter crew helps rescue 3 stranded hikers from slot canyon, flies 1 to hospital

Washington County Sheriff's Search and Rescue teams work with military pilots from Nellis Air Force Base during rescue of three hikers from Water Canyon, Washington County, Utah, Oct. 21, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Glyn Jones , St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Three hikers, one with fractured ribs, were rescued from a slot canyon in the Canaan Mountain wilderness early Sunday morning during an all-night rescue operation that included ground teams and two helicopters.

The incident began at 5:30 p.m. Saturday when Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue teams were called out to rescue a hiker who was injured while rappelling down a slot canyon in Water Canyon, an 11-mile backcountry trail near Hildale.

The hiker was equipped with a personal emergency alert device, which sent an alert along with the hiker’s GPS coordinates to authorities and triggered the call to search and rescue, Washington County Emergency Operations Manager Jason Whipple said.

Two teams headed out, with the first team making the three-hour hike through the remote wilderness to reach the injured man and the second team going around the back way on all-terrain vehicles.

An Intermountain Life Flight crew was also called in to assist. The helicopter flew over the area with a rescuer on board to locate a possible landing area and to find a suitable place for rescuers to render aid to the injured hiker.

The winds picked up significantly and the weather continued to worsen, Whipple said, which made it difficult for Life Flight to safely fly in the area, requiring the helicopter to go back to its base.

In the meantime, Whipple contacted Nellis Air Force Base and requested assistance, since the military has larger helicopters that can fly in inclement weather, as well as night vision technology and hoisting capabilities that would allow for a night rescue.

Within two hours, a Black Hawk helicopter arrived along with a trained team capable of performing hoists and short-haul flights, and the ground teams began arriving at the site of the stranded hikers.

Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue teams work with military pilots from Nellis Air Force Base during rescue of three hikers from Water Canyon, Washington County, Utah, Oct. 21, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Glyn Jones , St. George News

The team found the injured hiker, who suffered what appeared to be fractured ribs, Whipple said. While the injury was not life-threatening, Whipple said that if a patient is exposed to the elements or there is a significant delay in obtaining medical treatment, a less-than-serious injury can become a life-threatening situation.

Additionally, a storm moving into the region projected rain, which could have created a dangerous situation for the three hikers stranded in the slot canyon should a flash flood take place.

“They were out there in a slot canyon with a storm moving in, and it was getting cold,” Whipple said. “So we wanted to get them out of there and the hiker to the hospital before anything else happened.”

The injured hiker was hoisted into the helicopter and flown to Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George for evaluation and treatment. The helicopter then returned to the two remaining hikers and flew them away from the canyon to safety.

Meanwhile, the rescue teams made the three-hour trek back to the staging area and arrived back in St. George by 8:30 a.m., making it a 15-hour rescue operation that was successfully completed with everyone safe, Whipple said.

The crews from Nellis helped greatly, Whipple said, explaining that they responded quickly and assisted in getting the injured hiker to the hospital much sooner than ground crews would have been capable.

As for the two rescue teams, Whipple said, “they are a great group of people that are dedicated to what they do, and they hang in there no matter what.”

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  • Bender October 22, 2018 at 11:40 am

    Canaan Mountain Wilderness area covers the area the guys on off road vehicles would have had to traverse to reach the hiker from above.
    I’ve also seen search and rescue riding off road vehicles head into Red Mountain Wilderness (north of Ivins). Wilderness designation precludes motorized travel. In life or death situations you do what needs to be done but I’m curious who makes the decision to bust the wilderness rules. The cynic in me is saying the search and rescue off road vehicle team errs too far on the side of caution and sends in larger motorized teams more often than reasonably necessary. Anyone with first hand knowledge please change my mind.
    I otherwise salute the S and R teams for their selfless unpaid service.

  • jaltair October 22, 2018 at 8:54 pm

    Seems to me hikers and other people take too many risks going into the wilderness areas during times that inclement weather might be expected. All the same, thanks to the team that got them out safely.

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