An Oregon Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopter flew into the Crooked River Canyon Saturday morning and plucked a Redmond hiker from a precarious spot on the cliff where he’d been stuck through a long, chilly night, climaxing a challenging 16-hour rescue operation, authorities said.
Benjamin Hyatt, 42, of Redmond had used his cellphone to call Jefferson County sheriff’s dispatchers around 7 p.m. Friday to report his predicament, about 350 feet below the canyon rim and 150 above the river two miles downstream from the Crooked River Bridge, said Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins.
“He called in and said he was stuck” on the east side of the canyon, across from Crooked River Ranch, Adkins told NewsChannel 21. “He’d been on the flats hiking, lost his water bottle, then saw water down” at the canyon floor and started climbing down to reach it.
“My team had trouble locating him,” the sheriff said. “It was getting dark. Finally, we found him by voice,” on the east side of the river, across from Crooked River Ranch. “Rescuers (with CRR Fire & Rescue) on the ranch side could see him. They tried to rope down to him, but he was in such a precarious place, rocks could roll” and injure him or his rescuers.
The rescue became even tougher when Hyatt, wearing jeans and a tank top as temperatures dipped into the 40s, dropped his cell phone around 10 p.m., Adkins said. “The only way we could communicate was to yell at him.”
Sgt. Jason Erickson said Hyatt also had been talking to his wife, until he lost the phone.
Adkins said another thing that “threw a kink” into the all-night rescue effort was when Hyatt “moved into a more precarious position,” apparently so he could sit down or lean on a ledge in the chilly darkness.
“He’s tired, he’s hypothermic,” Adkins said. “If he leans forward, he’s going to fall, but he can’t lean back because he’s on a ledge.”
CRR Fire Chief Tim McLaren called in the National Guard, which sent a helicopter from Charlie Company/7-158 Aviation, which was in Astoria on a static display (and stopped at its home base in Salem for a crew and gear. He did so when it became clear it was “just not possible to get in there” otherwise, and due to the threat of hypothermia, Erickson said.
Dozens of onlookers gathered on the rim of the canyon Saturday morning to watch as the helicopter swooped in, dropping below the canyon rim to find Hyatt and to figure out the tricky logistics. They also were making sure about the right amount of rope and that they wouldn’t have “rotor wash” or other issues, Erickson said.
“They dropped one guy on a rope,” Erickson said, but “they couldn’t get quite to where he was at, kind of tucked into a little cave.”
The rescue unit pulled back up, then settled down and dropped the rescuer a second time.
“It looked like he reached out, put a safety strap around him and jerked him out of there,” the sergeant said.
The helicopter lifted the pair and set them down on a safer, yet still steep area of sagebrush and grass briefly, so the rescuer on the end of the rope could fasten Hyatt to a different, more secure harness, then “hoisted them all the way up,” Erickson said.
They then headed for a park at Crooked River Ranch, where a fire crew was waiting to do a quick assessment, started an IV and placed him in an ambulance for a trip to St. Charles Medical Center-Redmond to be checked out.
“He had some abrasions,” Erickson said. “He was cold and hungry.”
Dozens of people came to the location, watching the rescue – and one even tried to climb down and bring the stranded man a ladder.
Not a good idea, Erickson said, since someone else could get stranded, or worse, making the tricky rescue work even more complicated.
“We ask people to not show up at a rescue to be spectators,” he said. “You just create risk for yourself and others. It’s not going to do anybody any good.”
It was the second complex Crooked River Canyon rescue operation in recent days. Two boys who became stuck across the canyon on the CRR side were brought to the rim in a 4-hour rescue by the fire department's rope-rescue team.
Pack snacks, extra clothing and a whistle you can use to