Search plane lights up Nanaimo mountain with flares during icy rope rescue

Rescuers got injured hiker down Mt. Benson to a waiting ambulance Saturday night

The sky above Mt. Benson in Nanaimo is illuminated by flares as search and rescuers help an injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Search and Rescue)

The sky above Mt. Benson in Nanaimo is illuminated by flares as search and rescuers help an injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Search and Rescue)

Search and rescue personnel were able to help get an injured hiker down from the top of Mt. Benson before a snow storm arrived last night.

Nanaimo Search and Rescue crews, with help from Arrowsmith Search and Rescue and CFB Comox’s 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron, were able to rescue a man who had sustained a serious upper-body injury and bring him far enough down the mountain to reach a waiting ambulance Saturday, Jan. 23.

Eugene Touchette, search manager with Nanaimo SAR, said crews had just helped another hiker farther down the mountain when the call came in for the injured hiker at the top.

Usually, he said, rescuers can get vehicles all the way to the summit via the service road, but with recent weather – snow melting and then freezing – “the entire top of the mountain has become glare ice.”

Crews had GPS co-ordinates and knew where to go, but it was slow progress. Once they reached the patient, as assessment was made that due to his condition, combined with the grades on that part of the mountain and the approaching weather system, that a helicopter extraction was in order.

“With his injuries it was essential that we got him out before the storm came in. It wasn’t a shelter-in-place situation. We were concerned with the weather system and how we would even be able to extract him this morning with the conditions changing as well as the potential for going into shock,” Touchette said.

Once air support arrived, however, cloud cover made such an operation impossible for the Cormorant helicopter. Instead, the fixed-wing Buffalo aircraft circled, lighting the night sky with flares to assist rescuers on the mountainside below.

Touchette said SAR’s rope team used fixed ropes to get down steep pitches before all involved were able to hike to a UTV, which brought them to a truck, and then to an ambulance at about 11:30 p.m., some six and a half hours after the initial call came in. For search and rescuers, their day didn’t end until 2 a.m. – COVID-19 protocols demanded full sanitization of equipment so as to be prepared for the next call.

Touchette said he hopes a takeaway from Saturday’s incidents will be the importance of trip planning and preparation – he suggests http://adventuresmart.ca as a resource. He also reminds people to look at weather forecasts.

“The top of the mountain is the first place that the weather goes bad,” he said. “It might be nice in town, but if you look at the mountain, the weather could change very quickly.”

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editor@nanaimobulletin.com

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