Photo courtesy of Aero Methow Rescue Service Members of the Okanogan County Swiftwater Rescue Team practice techniques during a recent training session on the Methow River.

Photo courtesy of Aero Methow Rescue Service
Members of the Okanogan County Swiftwater Rescue Team practice techniques during a recent training session on the Methow River.

Responses may involve injured, ill or unprepared who need help

By Ann McCreary

Search and rescue teams have had a busy July responding to calls that have included plucking a stranded young rafter off a tree overhanging the Methow River and evacuating sick and injured people by helicopter from the North Cascades.

As residents and visitors head into the great outdoors each summer, some people inevitably find themselves needing help, said Cindy Button, Aero Methow Rescue Service director of services.

“Usually we have five to six rescues throughout the summer,” said Button. During July, search and rescue (SAR) teams have gone out on three rescues, and activated two teams for possible rescue.

“We’ve been really busy with search and rescue,” said Button. Aero Methow works in partnership with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office to coordinate search and rescue missions, she said.

On July 11, the county’s Swiftwater Rescue Team was called to respond to a report of a girl in a tree over the Methow River near Beaver Pond Road.

The 11-year-old girl was rafting with family members when they floated into a freshly fallen tree that was hanging over the river, Button said. The raft carrying the girl went under the tree with one passenger, and the girl managed to climb onto the tree.

She was unable to make it safely to shore, so the Swiftwater Rescue Team brought a raft into the river to help her off the tree, Button said. They completed the rescue shortly after 4 p.m.

Search and Rescue was called out the next day, July 12, to assist an 84-year-old Oregon resident who was riding on a horse-packing trip with family members up Andrews Creek trail in the Pasayten Wilderness when he began to feel unwell.

“He realized he couldn’t make it. He got off the horse and was unable to walk,” Button said.

The call came in at 6:32 p.m. and a “hasty team” was quickly assembled and two SAR members ran approximately 4.5 miles up the trail, and were followed by two other rescue members carrying additional equipment.

Because it was late they stayed overnight and “made him comfortable for the night,” Button said. The next morning a rescue helicopter from King County was called in and hoisted the man from the mountains. He was taken to the Twisp Municipal Airport, where an Aero Methow ambulance picked him up and took him to Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster, Button said.

Last week, on July 19, county search and rescue including medical personnel from Aero Methow headed north to near the Canadian border in response to a report of a man injured in a fall from a mule.

The team rendezvoused at the site near Corral Lake with an Air Force helicopter, which lifted the injured man from the mountains and delivered him to Twisp Municipal Airport. He was then transported to Three Rivers Hospital.

The swiftwater team has mobilized twice on calls of people who did not return when expected from river trips, but eventually showed up, Button said.

In every SAR mission, the work involves not just the people who are heading into the mountains or out on the rivers, but a team of people who provide ground support and logistics, Button said. 

With its attraction to outdoor recreationists, it’s not surprising that people need assistance, Button said.

Many people don’t recognize the risks of rivers or mountain environments, she said.

“They’re floating down the river backwards … not knowing what’s around the corner, or hiking up trails in flip-flops,” she said.

“We’re always amazed that we’re not called our more often considering how ill-prepared some people are.”