Officials talk dangers, safety after hiker falls 500 feet and dies

Local News

CENTRAL VALLEY, Calif. (KSEE) – After a 56-year-old man fell 500 feet while on a Memorial Day hike at Sequoia National Park, officials are highlighting the dangers of hiking at high altitudes – and the need to be prepared.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks officials say the man from San Jose was with two other hikers when he fell from the summit ridge of Mount Russell. They say a woman who was one of his hiking partners grabbed him as he lost his balance and also fell but was able to catch herself approximately 30 feet down. The woman survived.

Park officials as well as search and rescue teams remind hikers of some of the dangers of high altitudes and the precautions they should take.

“Obviously incredibly traumatic situation for the two of the three hikers that survived this incident as well as all of the loved ones,” said Rebecca Paterson with Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Park officials said the third hiker the 56-year-old man was with used a satellite device emergency locator beacon to declare an emergency – and then called 911 from his cell phone.

“That technology definitely absolutely does save lives. Every summer it saves many lives. So if that’s something that you want to carry with you, we just ask that you make sure that you definitely know how to use it,” Paterson said.

But Paterson said it’s important for people to understand that there’s no guarantee that hikers will be able to rely on park rescuers to get to them in a meaningful amount of time.

“Our own in-park helicopter was not available to respond when that call came in because they were already rescuing somebody else who was having their own emergency. Fortunately, the helicopter from Yosemite was able to come down and assist,” Paterson said.

“Typically, in incidents like this, between the time that we receive a call and the time that a patient is packaged up and being hauled off of the ledge where they might be stranded or something of that nature, we’d be talking hours, not minutes,” Paterson added.

Park officials urge people to be prepared before hiking and ensure they are following these steps:

  • Don’t assume there will be a high level of services or that cell phones will work.
  • Carry plenty of water.
  • Carry some sort of water filtration.
  • Carry maps and know where you’re going
  • Carry plenty of food and layers.
  • Be aware of the dangers that come with high altitudes.
  • Have the National Park Service app on your phone.

“What we just really want to impress upon people is that they’re going to probably feel different at higher elevations, and there’s going to be hazards that maybe they didn’t necessarily anticipate, even if they’re very fit people,” Paterson said.

Park officials said over the Memorial Day weekend, they responded to eight separate search and rescue incidents – and Paterson said several rescues a day during a busy weekend in the summer is not unusual.

The summer marks a busy day for parks and search and rescue teams.

Commander of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team Lt. Kathy Curtice says summer is their busiest time.

“In the summertime, it’s not only us that’s busy here in Fresno County. Everybody else is busy as well, and it’s not uncommon for us to go out of county a couple of times a month in the summer,” Curtice said. “We go to Yosemite on a regular basis, Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park.”

Curtice said one of the most important things hikers can do is complete an itinerary before taking a trip and hiking.

“And leave it with somebody who is not traveling with them and make sure that person knows what their instructions are. Make sure that person has a clear idea and a clear understanding of where they’re going to be traveling, when they’re expected back, and what to do if they don’t come back at that certain day and time,” Curtice said.

Curtice said a person does not have to wait 24 hours before reporting that somebody is missing.

“As soon as you know that they are overdue, it’s better for us to get started sooner rather than later,” Curtice said.

And they suggest if people are traveling where a wilderness or other permit is required, ensure that permit is accurate.

“When we’re looking for somebody, that’s one of the first things we’re going to look at. We go to those permits and we look for their itinerary because this is what they just filed,” Curtice said.

And no matter how experienced or fit a hiker is, Curtice said accidents can happen.

“People can be extremely fit, but if a rock dislodges and rolls down a hill just a little ways, it can still easily break a leg,” Curtice said.

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