Injured hiker rescued after five days on beach

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An injured hiker awaits rescue beside a "HELP" sign he wrote in the sand. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)
An injured hiker awaits rescue beside a "HELP" sign he wrote in the sand. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

A hiking accident that began with a 50-year-old-man falling from a cliff resulted in a made for Hollywood ending on a rescue helicopter from Air Station Humboldt Bay.

The hiker was injured in a fall while hiking north of Cape Mendocino in California on May 2nd. Injured and without food or water, the man could only hope someone saw the word “HELP” that he wrote along the beach. Five days later, a fishing vessel spotted the man on the beach and called the Coast Guard.

Rescue swimmer Christopher Hoffman tends to the injured hiker on the beach. The hiker was injured during a fall from the cliffs in the background. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Rescue swimmer Christopher Hoffman tends to the injured hiker on the beach. The hiker was injured during a fall from the cliffs in the background. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

“If it weren’t for the observant crew of the Nanbellis Jo, and a little bit of good luck, it is unlikely this case would have a happy ending,” said Lt. Todd Vorenkamp, co-pilot of the helicopter that medevaced the hiker.  “The Nanbellis Jo crew deserves credit for saving this man’s life.”

But that is only the beginning of the story. After arriving at the beach, the air crew determined the hiker’s injuries were too severe for a typical recovery.

“Based on the initial report, we thought the man was ambulatory, but when we prepared to lower the rescue basket, the man started sliding through the sand on his backside,” said Lt. j.g. George Suchanek, the pilot of the helicopter.  “We quickly determined that it was unlikely that the man could get himself into the rescue basket, and we decided to deploy the rescue swimmer to assess the condition of the hiker.”

The rescue swimmer advised the helicopter that the man required medical attention and stayed with the injured man while the helicopter returned to Air Station Humboldt Bay to refuel and pick up a rescue litter. The helicopter returned and was able to airlift the injured man to a local hospital.

Despite the Hollywood ending, this rescue illustrates the importance of all hikers and mariners informing family and friends of their plans when going to sea or hiking remote trails.  Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back so that if an accident occurs, they can contact authorities and let them know you are missing.  Also, it is highly recommended to pack survival gear and be prepared for any eventuality and have multiple ways of signaling for help if needed, including radios, signal mirrors, flares, etc.

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