First Aiders in Alberta on Sunday coordinated a daring rescue to rescue a wounded BASE jumper stranded on the side of a Rocky Mountain cliff suspended about 200 feet above the ground by only a parachute locked.
The call came in to Kananaski’s public security broadcast shortly before noon. A jumper had gone out of a launch at the East End of Rundle, a mountain near Canmore, Alta., But his parachute did not work well, said Jeremy Mackenzie, a public safety specialist at the group.
The jumper was seriously injured in the crash, but Mackenzie said he would survive.
BASE jumping is a sport in which you jump from a fixed object, such as a bridge or building or mountain cliff, with a parachute.
The jumper had jumped from the mountain, but when the man put out his parachute, Mackenzie said it was twisting and he was pushed violently into the rock wall.
From there, the BASE jumper “basically cartwheeled” drove a considerable distance down the side of a 400 meter long cliff.
“His parachute was inserted, but it wasn’t really inflated,” Mackenzie said.
But the slick miraculously stuck to a very small rock horn – and that was enough to stop his downward trajectory, Mackenzie said.
“Basically, he was stranded about halfway down his face [of the mountain]. “
Rescuers eventually managed to reach the jumper and he was lowered from a ledge into a rescue helicopter and flown to hospital.
Although the jumper had sustained traumatic injuries, emergency personnel said they were not life-threatening and that he was in stable condition.
“He was in a lot of pain, had … fractures in his arms and legs,” Mackenzie said.
Fortunately, the mountain winds were calm Sunday and the jumper was with a friend, Mackenzie said.
“They were able to shout back and forth, and the BASE jumper indicated that he felt like he had broken a leg and that he was sitting very insecurely,” Mackenzie said.
Even luckier, that friend was able to call for help.
First aiders began assembling specialized ropes and rescue equipment, and Mackenzie even met Alpine Helicopter’s rescue pilot at a hangar in Canmore.
“We kind of knew the basics of the situation and the location, and then immediately we started implementing our team,” Mackenzie said.
“Within half an hour we were in the air.”
The rest of the way down
The rescue helicopter quickly found the stranded BASE jumper, and was seen waving to them from a very steep cliff.
“It was very clear right away, even without getting too close, that his canopy was chopped … and that was the only thing stopping him from walking the rest of the way down,” Mackenzie said.
In assessing their options, rescuers realized that the helicopter threatened to disrupt the canopy and blow the BASE jumper off the mountain if it got too close.
Instead, a team of five people – some from Kananaski’s Public Safety, some from Parks Canada – gathered and flew to the top of the cliff.
“We built some anchors there, and then we used two 13-millimeter-diameter ropes to tie together,” Mackenzie said.
“And then we put two rescuers down in the face and lowered them into place. And eventually they were able to get to the patient.”
‘Hanging by the thread’
The BASE jumper was lowered by rescuers to a ledge where Mackenzie said they got him in a proper harness.
“He’s extremely lucky. You know, ‘hanging by the thread’ has a good, new meaning for me,” Mackenzie said.
“And he’s obviously a very tough guy.”
From there, he was picked up by helicopter and taken to Canmore Hospital, where an air ambulance was waiting to transport him to Foothills Medical Center in Calgary.
There is likely to be plenty of improvement in the man’s future, Mackenzie said. But he will recover, mainly because several teams worked together and responded professionally and carefully, he said.
“This is, you know, almost as challenging as they get,” Mackenzie said.
“There were several different groups working together and working really well together to make sure this result was as good as it could get.”