TAYLORSVILLE — A Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter was able to navigate around a winter storm and into a slot canyon Sunday to hoist a man trapped in quicksand to safety.
But while many are hailing the efforts of all the crews involved in the dramatic rescue, Department of Public Safety Sgt. Wyatt Weber on Monday shrugged it off, calling it a "typical" rescue.
"It was a little bit difficult. The weather made it a little complicated, but I had the easiest job. The hardest job was the guys on the ground who spent all night there, were cold, fighting water and weather and wind. We train for this. We've practiced many hours for wind and water and those kind of things," he said.
On Saturday, a 34-year-old Arizona man and a woman went hiking in the Left Fork of North Creek — also known as the Subway at Zion National Park. But between three to four hours into the hike, one of the man's legs became trapped in quicksand in the middle of a creek. His leg was buried to his knee and he was unable to pull himself out.
The woman who was with the man had to hike three to four hours back the way she came before she could get cellphone reception to call 911. Park rangers hiked up the canyon, found the man and pulled him out. By that time, the man had been trapped in the cold, running water for 10 hours and was suffering from hypothermia, according to park officials.
Rescue crews used tarps and canopies to make a shelter and stayed with the man at the scene that night in "frigid conditions," according to the rangers.
Sunday, park rangers called the Utah Department of Public Safety to see if its helicopter was available. Weber said he, a pilot, and one other crew member flew several hours to get to Zion. But they were forced to take several detours around an oncoming winter storm.
"There was some concern that we would have to turn around and not make it down there," he said.
But by Sunday afternoon, the helicopter arrived at the canyon.
From the air, Weber said the snow made for a picturesque and serene setting. But below, the crew knew that they needed to hoist the injured hiker out so that rescuers who had already hiked to him and spent the night, wouldn't have to carry him out.
"It saved them from now having to carry that individual four hours out of the slot canyon, even down some rappels that would have taken them quite a bit of time," he said.
The state released video taken from the helicopter of the rescue on Monday.
The canyon was about 400 feet wide in that area, Weber said.
"I'm going to face down canyon so keep an eye on the trees,” the pilot can be heard saying on the video.
As the helicopter lowered into the canyon, Weber said the crew was always surveying the situation and thinking a step ahead.
"Where is our escape? Where would we land the helicopter if we had to make an emergency landing?" he said were questions going through their heads.
"There are very few escapes if there is an emergency. And it causes weird wind patterns in these canyons with the helicopter hovering. And so the wind does very strange things. It kind of makes it difficult to fly, makes it difficult to lower the hook down to the patient, makes it difficult for the people on the ground with things blowing away," Weber said.
But again, he noted that for this type of rescue, "to say it's typical would be accurate."
The pilot was able to get as close as 75 feet from the ground. One of the crew members was lowered to the ground using the hoist, and then got the injured hiker prepped and hoisted into the helicopter.1 comment on this story
Once inside the chopper, the man, who was heavily bundled up by rescuers, said, "Thank you."
He was then flown to a nearby ambulance and driven to a local hospital.
The only unusual part of the operation, Weber said, was the quicksand — something hikers typically don't expect to fall into at Zion National Park.
"I think they did a lot of things right. They were prepared. They were able to get out to get help, to stay there, to wait for the rangers. I don't think there was any misdeed or misstep that they made. It was just one of those things that they got stuck."