On Friday, August 27, 2021, two dehydrated hikers were rescued by a search and rescue team near Prescott, Arizona. However, their rescue mission soon took a turn for the worse when the helicopter that was supposed to bring them downhill nearly crashed after takeoff.
According to local news sources, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Department received an emergency call earlier in the day that there were two hikers in trouble on Pine Mountain, a popular hiking destination in Prescott National Forest.
Search and rescue teams were quickly dispatched to the hikers’ location. The sheriff’s department also dispatched a rescue helicopter to try and find the hikers and bring them off the mountain.
However, after the helicopter pilot successfully located the hikers and helped them into the helicopter, things took a turn for the worse. For an as-of-yet unknown reason, the helicopter lost power just as it started taking off. This forced the pilot to make an emergency landing.
The emergency landing didn’t quite go to plan. Indeed, windy weather in the area pushed the helicopter approximately 20 feet from its original landing zone into an area with large trees and boulders.
As a result, the helicopter’s rotor hit a tree, causing more damage to the aircraft. Thankfully, the pilot was able to land without further issue and no additional injuries were reported.
Soon afterward, another helicopter was dispatched to the scene, but it was unable to land due to the high winds. The pilot from the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Department made the decision that the best option for the group was to hike the two hikers down the trail for approximately 8 miles to the trailhead. After the event, the two hikers credited the pilot for saving their lives.
Arizona Search and Rescue Helicopter Crash Incident Analysis
Helicopter crashes are, thankfully, quite rare and helicopter crashes during search and rescue missions are even more unlikely.
Some of the most recent data from the Federal Aviation Administration indicates that helicopter accident rates have been declining in recent years. Data from 2016 indicates that the total helicopter accident rate in the US is approximately 3.19 accidents per 100,000 flight hours. Put another way, there were a total of 106 helicopter accidents in the country that year out of millions of flight hours.
However, helicopter accidents are serious and this incident highlights a number of interesting points. One thing that is often overlooked in wilderness medicine and search and rescue is the fact that these missions often pose real danger to first responders and other search and rescue personnel.
Most people who work on or volunteer for search and rescue missions are willing to put themselves in tricky situations to help others. But the danger involved in such rescues should not be overlooked.
Indeed, the Mountain Rescue Association published a report in 2016 that looks specifically at accidents in mountain rescue operations. According to the report, aircraft accidents are one of the most common causes of injury or death during mountain rescues.
Of course, accidents do happen in the mountains and placing blame on individual hikers is often unproductive and inappropriate. However, proper planning before adventures can lower the likelihood that one would need a rescue in the first place, reducing the amount of time search and rescue teams need to spend in the field.
As is the case with nearly all wilderness medicine incidents, preparedness can go a long way from preventing issues from happening. Always head out into the mountains with the hiking 10 essentials in your pack and know your limitations before going outside.