Volunteers save injured hiker, mark Coquitlam SAR’s first helicopter hoist

The hiker was zigging and zagging along a remote trail way out in the backcountry on Saturday morning when she slipped.

Her knee slid toward her hip. Her leg swelled.

The hiker, a Vancouver woman, was heading with her husband to Widgeon Lake. However, she quickly realized she couldn’t walk.

The couple called 911 and the message was relayed to Coquitlam Search and Rescue.

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However, finding the couple amid a thickly wooded area dotted with 200-foot-tall trees was a challenge, explains Al Hurley, a manger with Coquitlam SAR.

“Not a lot of openings,” Hurley notes.

Because cell coverage in the area is spotty, the search team only had a rough idea of where the hiker was waiting.

“Conflicting cellphone stories were driving us a little buggy because it’s a big area,” Hurley says. “When it’s that remote and the timber’s that thick, it just is such a drain on us.”

Eventually, a search manager got a ping off her phone and they had a coordinate.

While their Talon helicopter scoured the treetops, Hurley was part of a team on the ground trying to make voice contact.

They found the hiker who, all things considered, seemed quite composed, according to Hurley.

“Very calm,” Hurley says. “She’d only taken a Tylenol.”

The crew applied a vacuum splint.

“We remove all the air from it and it becomes a rigid splint so her leg won’t move,” Hurley explains.

After that, they secured the hiker in an aerial rescue bag, clipped her to the helicopter, and had her winched up to the Talon where she was flown to a waiting ambulance.

photo supplied

Coquitlam SAR has been using a helicopter for 10 years, but, before Saturday, that’s always meant attaching a fixed line to the bottom of the helicopter. With the winch line, the pilot can keep the helicopter low, ideally making the rescue faster and more efficient.

“You’re inside the aircraft fairly quickly so it’s not like you’re not getting a real rush of a ride like you would if you were hanging under the helicopter,” Hurley says.

Coquitlam SAR offers tips for hikers heading into the backcountry this season

It’s about heading into the backcountry and it’s about making it back without the aid of a Talon helicopter.

This Thursday, Steve Chapman with Coquitlam Search and Rescue is set to offer his advice about hiking in the Tri-Cities at a Coquitlam City Centre library event.

“The idea is to get people excited [about] exploring areas that they may not have been to before,” explains Chapman, who serves as director of community education for Coquitlam SAR.
Besides information about each hike, Chapman says he also plans to explain some of the perils.

After nearly nine years with Coquitlam SAR, Chapman says he’s seen rescues on most trails throughout the Tri-Cities. In many instances, those incidents form a decent reminder of “what not to do,” he says.

“There is a tendency for [hikers] to over-use their cellphones during the course of the day so when it comes to that critical moment when they need help . . . sometimes their cellphones haven’t got enough battery,” he says.

If you’re hiking in an area with spotty cellphone coverage, the phone might waste power trying to connect to a network.

“That really drains the battery quickly,” he says, advising hikers to either put their phone in airplane mode or to turn it off until they need it.

The 90-minute presentation may also touch on the difficulty of different hikes as well as problems hikers may experience with signage.

“Generally, the trails in our area aren’t very well marked,” he says.

Chapman also emphasizes the need to pack a flashlight, as he’s seen hikers who leave in the afternoon and find themselves unable to navigate their way back in the dark.

For more information on Thursday’s presentation, click here.


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