Rescue workers touched by pilot’s death
July 9, 2015
It's a sad day when a rescue worker dies in the line of duty. I heard recently of the death of Patrick Mahany, a pilot for Flight for Life, and was brought to tears.
We have flown with Patrick on rescues; he helped train our members in helicopter safety. He will be missed by the rescue community.
I had the same feelings 21 years ago on July 9, 1994, when a Flight for Life helicopter crashed on Huron Peak near Buena Vista killing pilot Gary McCall and flight nurse Sandy Sigman. I have climbed Huron Peak and visited the marker below the peak, which remembers their heroism.
Greg Mace, Mountain Rescue Aspen, died while training on the Maroon Bells in 1986. His service was attended by hundreds of Mountain Rescue members, including myself.
In 1995 Peter Peelgrane, a Denver news helicopter pilot who flew many rescue flights for SAR teams, died of injuries sustained in a 1992 helicopter crash. A fund for SAR education was established in his memory.
On July 29, 2005, Rocky Mountain National Park Ranger Jeff Christensen, who was also a ski patroller at Winter Park, went missing while on backcountry patrol. A massive search for Jeff was initiated by the Park; Grand County Search and Rescue assisted. Ranger Christensen's body was found on Aug. 6. He had died from a fall.
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Just a couple weeks ago two Austrian rescue workers were killed by a freak summer avalanche.
The Mountain Rescue community remembers these events. Marks them. Never forgets. These are our brothers in arms, our teammates..
Word travels fast when a rescue accident occurs. Or when a comrade stumbles and falls from his mountain path.
When my friend Tim Cochrane from Vail Mountain Rescue, a former Mountain Rescue Association president, passed from cancer way too young at age 61, the outpouring was enormous from the Mountain Rescue community, including an Air Force flyover at the memorial service and a ceremony by the Mountain Rescue Association Honor Guard.
The Mountain Rescue Association Honor Guard is the only Search and Rescue Honor Guard, military or civilian, in existence in the United States. These volunteers step up when there is a need to provide respectful and dignified memorial services for fallen mountain rescue and search and rescue personnel, whether civilian, military, or otherwise, as well as for climbers and mountaineers who die in the course of rescuing others.
We've been fortunate at GCSAR – no fatalities over the last 30 years. We train for safety. Personal safety first, your team member second, the subject comes in third. We also train to be able to rescue or care for each other because you just never know what's going to happen when you're out there, sometimes in dangerous situations.
In 2002 one of our members, Don Neuman, drove over a cornice near Rollins Pass in white out conditions during a rescue, falling 800 feet. Both he and the subject he was transporting survived, but it could have gone the other way. In 1985 another member fell through a cornice on Mines Peak – another non-injury close call. That member was me.
Both of these close calls resulted in an immediate, no holds barred effort to rescue the Team member in trouble by the other rescuers on scene. That's why we train as a team, so if the situation gets ugly we have a team response. Immediately.
Rescue workers, whether they are volunteer or paid, take considerable risk to do what they do. In a perfect world, they get to go home to their families at the end of the day.
Greg Foley is a member of Grand County Search and Rescue and has been a mountain rescue volunteer for 35 years. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The GCSAR website can be found at grandcountySAR.com or on Facebook/GCSAR.
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