County search and rescue team used high-angle techniques
A 6-year-old girl and her father sustained non-life-threatening injuries after they fell 40 feet over Boulder Creek Falls on Saturday (July 29), landing in a very narrow canyon at the base of the falls.
Okanogan County Search and Rescue (OCSAR) employed high-angle rescue techniques to hoist the girl to the top of the falls in a litter to a waiting ambulance, Okanogan County Sheriff Chief Criminal Deputy Rick Balam told the Methow Valley News. Balam also heads up the all-volunteer search-and-rescue team.
OCSAR teamed up with Aero Methow Rescue Service, which was first to respond to the call, which came in around 4 p.m. Firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service also helped rescue the pair.
Because the girl had leg injuries, she had to be brought to the top of the falls in a litter. Her father, who had sustained injuries to his arm and hand, was able to walk up the steep slope alongside the falls with the aid of the rescue crew, Balam said.
Aero Methow EMTs were able to reach the father and daughter at the base of the falls. Because of the risks associated with the rescue, Aero Methow contacted OCSAR for the expertise of the high-angle team, Balam said.
Two Aero Methow technicians were already tending to the pair and stabilizing their injuries when the OCSAR team arrived at around 5:30 p.m., Balam said. But Balam didn’t know until OCSAR got to the scene that there were two injured people, not only the child. That changes the approach to the rescue, he said.
It appears that the father had taken his daughter into the creek to the edge of the top of the falls, where the two slipped and fell straight down 40 feet over slimy rocks, Balam said. The pair were on a rock and gravel ledge alongside a pool at the base of the falls when the rescuers arrived.
The OCSAR crew was able to reach the injured father and daughter via the steep hillside alongside the falls without too much difficulty, Balam said. “It was clear it would take special equipment to get everyone out of there,” he said.
Because he could walk out with assistance, the father was brought to the top of the falls first, where four rescuers took him to the waiting ambulance. Then the team went back to the base of the falls to get the girl out.
High-angle rescues employ specialized techniques to carry a litter out of a situation so no one else gets hurt, Balam said. It took about an hour to rig the equipment with long lines to ensure it was secure.
Some of the rescuers were stationed above the falls, where they used the long lines and rigging system to take up the slack as four SAR team members slowly ascended the steep slope, carrying the girl in the litter and making sure it remained stable.
A crew of firefighters with the Forest Service were working nearby. A search-and-rescue team member was able to contact them, and the Forest Service crew helped cut brush so that the SAR team could carry the girl out on the litter through the forest without having to pick their way through branches, Balam said.
It took about an hour to secure the girl in the litter with her leg injuries. While they worked, the team let her listen to her father on their portable radio so that she knew he was OK, Balam said.
Six high-angle specialists from OCSAR, about five EMTs and paramedics from Aero Methow, and 20 firefighters assisted with the rescue.
The girl and her father were transported from the scene at about 7:30 p.m. to Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster. The falls are about 9 miles north of Winthrop.
“Please do not enter the water at the top of any waterfall; it is extremely slippery and dangerous,” Okanogan County Undersheriff Dave Yarnell said in a press release about the incident.
About 16 of the OCSAR team members have high-angle training. The team also has other specialties, including swift-water rescues, Balam said.