Death of UMaine student, 22, after hiking Acadia trail remains under investigation

Posted Aug. 05, 2012, at 6:05 a.m.
Last modified Aug. 05, 2012, at 9:33 a.m.
Rescuers work Saturday to carry a 22-year-old woman to the top of Champlain Mountain after she fell while hiking the Precipice Trail. She was taken by helicopter to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, where she later died.
National Park Service
Rescuers work Saturday to carry a 22-year-old woman to the top of Champlain Mountain after she fell while hiking the Precipice Trail. She was taken by helicopter to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, where she later died.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The National Park Service continues to investigate the circumstances surrounding the July 28 death of a 22-year-old New Hampshire woman who fell 60 feet from the Precipice Trail while hiking up Champlain Mountain in Acadia National Park.

Shirley Ladd, a senior at the University of Maine, was hiking with a friend when she fell and suffered multiple injuries at about 11 a.m. After a difficult, six-hour rescue effort she was airlifted to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, where she was pronounced dead at 5:07 p.m.

“We are continuing to interview potential witnesses,” Ranger Ed Pontbriand said Saturday night. “It appears she was getting ready to ascend a set of rungs affixed to the cliff face, and she either missed a rung, slipped or didn’t grab a rung properly. There are people who heard her screaming as she fell.

“Our investigation is an effort to create a profile of what happened and why it happened,” he said.

Pontbriand said Ladd had climbed about three-fourths of the way to the mountain’s 1,058-foot summit when she fell. He said it took rescuers at least 40 minutes to reach her after being notified by a cellphone call. A paramedic and an emergency room nurse who were hiking on the mountain came to her aid before a LifeFlight helicopter landed on the summit and dropped off two additional paramedics.

“I don’t know that she could have gotten better medical care at the scene,” Pontbriand said. “Those who were there at first did a wonderful job, but they had no tools to work with.”

After dropping off the paramedics, the LifeFlight helicopter returned to Bangor to pick up additional medical staff. After dropping them off, the chopper flew in units of blood from a hospital in Bar Harbor.

“I think the care she received was just a little less than an emergency room could have provided,” Pontbriand said. “They gave her every chance of making it, and every time they thought that she was bottoming out, they’d get a radial pulse, which is a very good sign.”

After reaching Ladd and strapping her to a litter, rescuers used a series of anchors and pulleys to raise her 250 feet up the cliff face to the helicopter waiting at the Champlain Mountain summit. Nearly six hours after her fall, Ladd was en route to emergency care in Bangor.

Pontbriand said injuries are rare on the trail from which Ladd fell, which was dry at the time of her death.

“There is a sign at the trailhead that tells people this is a steep and difficult climb and that they have to be very careful, as people have died hiking this trail,” he said. “It’s not unusual for hikers to be all pumped up about getting to the summit and then, halfway up, they realize it’s too much, and they turn around and come back.”

Bangor Daily News writer Tom Groening contributed to this report.

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