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Rescue crews save injured hunter who spent freezing night on ledge

BOISE – An injured hunter was rescued after a harrowing night stranded on a rocky ledge in freezing temperatures, frostbitten and losing feeling in his leg.

Nate Aggen, 22, became separated from his elk-hunting party Saturday and tried to cross several drainages before he fell into the Payette River and soaked himself up to his chest.

With daylight running out and no emergency supplies, he climbed to a ledge about 900 feet above the river, spoke to a fellow hunter by walkie-talkie and fired shots into the air to mark his position.

Wet, cold and sore, Aggen wound up having to wait until the next morning before rescuers, hampered by weather and the difficult terrain, succeeded in bringing him to safety.

“I was scrounging around looking for something to make a shelter when something came down the embankment and hit me in the back,” Aggen said. “It was a rock or a log. I lost the feeling in my left leg.

“I crawled up to a rock to huddle against. It was raining and snowing, and then it got to below-freezing temperatures.”

A Life Flight helicopter brought in state and local rescuers, but fog prevented them from being able to make a rescue in the canyon.

“He was extremely cold and hypothermic. We did not think he was going to make it,” said Sharon Barnes, a Boise County dispatcher. “They couldn’t get anything to him, and it was dark.”

Crews set up powerful lights in the steep canyon so rescuers could see their way, and a whitewater crew teamed up with paramedics and a mountain search and rescue team to descend into the canyon by rope and ferry themselves across the river in an inflatable raft, Barnes said.

In the pre-dawn hours Sunday, they made a difficult climb to Aggen’s position, staying in contact with him on his radio every 20 or 30 minutes.

“They were asking how I was doing, making sure I was still shivering and still breathing,” Aggen said. “I was blacking out.”

The rescuers strapped Aggen into a stretcher and lowered him to the river, where he was loaded onto a raft and floated to the north bank, then hoisted hundreds of feet up to the highway – an operation that took another six hours.

He was taken to the hospital, but suffered only minor frostbite and contusions to the head. He was released later Sunday.

Reached at home by telephone, Aggen said it was his first big game hunting trip.

“I’ll be back out to do it again,” he said. “I’ll just do it the correct way.”

Aggen wasn’t the only member of his group who ran into trouble along the river about 40 miles north of Boise.

In the late afternoon, two hunters became stranded on the south side of the river, Boise County Chief Deputy Bill Braddock said. Rescuers returned their attention to Aggen after determining the other stranded hunters could build a fire and safely spend the night.

A third member of the party capsized while attempting to cross the river by canoe and was rescued by a passing motorist.