The National Park Service reports that park personnel have been involved in three winter-related search and rescue operations over the past couple of months.
On the evening of Jan. 28, the park received a report of an overdue day hiker on Old Rag Mountain. The man was reported to have significant medical issues and was not prepared for the extreme cold weather conditions. In addition, a winter storm was forecast for the following afternoon.
Hasty searchers that night were unable to locate the man. Containment was set up overnight, with full search efforts beginning the following morning, including utilization of the U.S. Park Police’s Eagle 1 helicopter for aerial search and hoist operations.
Eagle 1 used a hoist to insert a searcher on the summit, while four other ground teams searched the trail corridors leading to the summit.
After several hours, the man was located near the summit and was extracted by Eagle 1, transported to waiting a ground ambulance, then taken to the local hospital. A total of 14 NPS and 26 volunteer searchers ultimately were assigned to the search. Eagle 1 was piloted by Jeff Hertel and crewed by rescue technician/paramedic Timothy Ryan.
In another incident, on Jan. 15, a man and woman were eating lunch below an ice-covered cliff about 10 feet off the Whiteoak Trail, when a large chunk of ice broke free and fell about 25 feet, hitting the woman on the back. She sustained multiple bone fractures and other injuries, including a punctured lung. The roads and grounds crew plowed open a snow- and ice-covered fire road to expedite the evacuation, averting a lengthy carry-out over icy terrain. The woman was then flown to the University of Virginia Trauma Center and was reported in stable condition the following day.
On Dec. 18, in response to a weather forecast for substantial snow, the Park’s interior was evacuated and roads were closed. On the following morning, two hikers called for assistance, after having parked at the closed barricades and hiked seven miles into a backcountry cabin.
The hikers explained that they thought they had been prepared for snow but had found they weren’t ready for the nearly four feet of snow on the ground. Rescue efforts brought plows to access the party and extract them.
The plows encountered drifts up to seven feet high along Skyline Drive and took several hours to reach the stranded hikers. The hikers were cold and exhausted when the rescue personnel reached them later that evening, but otherwise unharmed.
The success of all three of these rescues was dependent on the continuously displayed teamwork and effectiveness of all of the Park’s divisions and on outside resources coming together with them and accomplishing difficult tasks, according to Deputy Chief Ranger Pete Webster.