Mount Rainier National Park currently is finalizing plans to implement a program of short-haul rescues, an emergency response technique in which responders – and in some cases victims – are transported while suspended beneath a helicopter.
Short-haul has become the rescue standard at other national parks. Rainier hopes to implement the program by August, according to a release issued by park officials.
Remote locations and perilous terrain can, in some cases, make for lengthy, high-risk ground rescues; short-haul circumvents those challenges.
Typically, short-haul is performed by a ranger, clipped to a line, who is flown as “human external cargo” to the rescue site.
There, the ranger could unclip and administer aid, or – depending on the terrain and conditions – could remain clipped to the hovering helicopter, secure the patient to the line and help transport him to safe terrain.
Mount Rainier National Park has long relied on U.S. Army Reserve personnel and helicopters to extract injured climbers and hikers from inaccessible terrain around the mountain.
While this critical partnership remains, there now are certain limitations on hoist operations.
The changes were precipitated by an accident in June 2012 in which a climbing ranger was killed during a rescue at 13,900 feet on the Emmons-Winthrop Glacier.
The accident led to an extensive review of Mount Rainier’s rescue response process, according to the park.
New criteria – created based on both an external and internal review – require slower, more deliberate and well-thought-out responses.
Where hazards to rescuers are deemed unacceptable, no response will be given.