Forest rangers rescue injured hiker from Chairback Mountain

Photo courtesy of Maine Forest Service Ranger Lt. Jeff Currier.
Posted Sept. 02, 2011, at 8:55 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 03, 2011, at 5:15 p.m.

TOWNSHIP 7, RANGE 9, Maine — Maine Forest Rangers landed one of their UH-1 helicopters on an improvised landing zone, a tiny ledge atop Chairback Mountain, to take a hiker with a broken ankle to safety during a rare and hazardous remote-access rescue Friday on the Appalachian Trail.

The hiker, an Ohio man whose name was not available, was taken by ambulance to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor after the rangers flew him to Bangor International Airport shortly after 4 p.m., Ranger Chief Pilot John Crowley said. The man’s condition was not available.

Rangers Ben Goodwin and Tom Liba used chainsaws and other cutting tools to clear brush and growth from the landing zone, a 12-foot by 12-foot area on the largely rock outcropping atop the 1,988-foot mountain, as Ranger Michael McGary and Old Town Fire Department Firefighter Chris Baker, a paramedic, hiked about a half-mile along rugged valley ground between the Chairback and Columbus Mountain peaks to get to the hiker.

“It was a tough area” to land in, Ranger co-pilot Chris Blackie said, “not a good area. We are backcountry specialist in terms of what we could do and we are probably one of the few [rescue organizations] that could have landed there.”

With assistance from two Maine game wardens and two or three employees of the Appalachian Trail Association or club, who hiked in to rescue the hiker along the trail, the rangers treated the injured man and carried him back to the helicopter, Blackie said. By then, the helicopter had refueled at the Rangers’ Greenville facility.

The initial landing, in which Blackie and Pilot Lincoln Mazzei brought the Huey just low enough to allow the Rangers to disembark from a helicopter skid lightly touching the mountainside — and to ask passing hikers for directions to the injured man — was also hazardous, Crowley said.

“You just don’t know what you are going to find until you get there, until you put skids on the ground,” Crowley said.

The HeliTac team had no choice. Ranger teams get called to handle rescues or injuries a half-dozen times a year, when other rescue organizations decide that time or hazardous circumstance warrants the rangers’ involvement, Crowley said.

“It would have been an extremely long and arduous carry for the wardens. It could have easily been an all-night carry, hours and hours,” Blackie said. “The terrain is so up and down there. It’s hard enough to carry someone on flat ground.”

The rangers have an agreement with Old Town to supply medically trained rescuers when they are needed, Crowley said.

The HeliTac team was training at the Old Town airport when the call came in at 1 p.m. The crew was back at base by 5:15 p.m., Blackie said.

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