Rescue at Crater Lake: specialized rescue team saves man from icy slope
Herald and News
Klamath Falls, Oregon
February 2, 2009
By JILL AHO
H&N Staff Writer
CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK — Park rangers are warning visitors to be cautious around Crater Lake’s steep and icy rim after a Kingsley Field airman slid nearly 200 feet down the caldera while trying to retrieve a cell phone.
Members of a specialized Jackson County technical team rescued Kevin Harris, 26, of Glendale, Ariz., Saturday afternoon after he lost his footing on the caldera wall.
If Harris had continued sliding, he would have dropped off the cliff face and landed in the water 700 feet below.
Conditions at the national park were especially dangerous, rescuers said, because the ground was covered with about 6 inches of solid ice topped by a few inches of fresh snow.
Park rangers contacted Jackson County Fire District 3’s special operation group for assistance, said Fire District Capt. Mike Calhoun.
Calhoun said rangers lowered a rope with a backpack containing a blanket, water and hand warmers about 180 feet down to Harris, a U.S. Air Force member stationed at Kingsley Field.
Calhoun’s main safety concern was the fresh snow over ice.
It was dangerous to walk even where the ground was relatively level, he said. “I don’t think there was a team member who at some point didn’t slip and fall down.”
Harris fell at about 12:45 p.m. near Rim Village and rescuers arrived at 2:30 p.m.
Technical rescue team member Pat Haynes was lowered into the caldera and both men were pulled out at 3:30 p.m.
Calhoun said Pat Haynes, who rappelled down the caldera wall to rescue Harris, estimated if Harris had slid another 15 feet he would have been unable to stop himself.
Fire district spokesman Don Hickman said Jackson County would not normally respond to an incident at Crater Lake, but its Technical Rescue Team is called out to specialized rescues.
“They’re very, very skilled at rappelling and going-over-the-cliff type rescues,” Hickman said. “From time to time we’re asked to provide mutual aid to neighboring fire departments.
Hickman said Technical Rescue Team members spend hours in training, and the incident gave them a chance to use that knowledge.
“They do a lot of intense training throughout the year, and when they can actually go out and apply their skills, that’s valuable,” he said. “The nice thing about this incident is it had a positive outcome. We don’t encourage people to try to retrieve lost items over a cliff, especially into a caldera.”