Suspicious Man Jumps Off Cliff in National Park

Suspicious Man Jumps Off Cliff in National Park

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Competent rescuers know to expect the unexpected. But during an April 22 incident, rangers at the Grand Canyon National Park dealt with the unexpected–and then even more unexpected in the form of a potentially dangerous victim.

Questionable Park Visitor
The series of unforeseen events began at 1344 HRS, when two National Park Service (NPS) personnel responded to a park visitor’s complaint of a man panhandling at the “Duck on a Rock” pullout on the South Rim, located approximately 10 miles east of Grand Canyon Village.

The two NPS personnel–a field training ranger and a ranger-trainee–approached a man who fit the description in the report, and asked for his identification. The man fled, running out of the parking area and into an area of trees along the edge of the canyon. The ranger and ranger-trainee followed the man to the canyon rim.

As the two NPS personnel again approached, the man suddenly jumped over the edge. Fearing that the man had plunged to his death, the two NPS personnel hurried to the edge. They then saw that the man had fallen about 30 vertical feet. He had landed on a 45-degree slope and then rolled about 30 feet into thick vegetation. He appeared to be alive. The rangers called for rescue and medical response.

Strange Response
The park’s Station 1 immediately responded with Rescue 82 and Medic 81. Other rangers in the area converged on the site as well.

As is standard on any serious event, the park employed the incident command system (ICS). For this incident, the ICS positions were Incident Command, Investigation, Rescue Group Supervisor and Operations. The rangers blocked off the Duck on a Rock parking lot to use as staging area and possible helicopter LZ.

Responders anchored ropes to pine trees and backtied the trees to other anchors. They then lowered two rangers over the side–one on a brake bar rack with a 540° safety and the other on a CMC MPD device.

The incident had already been quite strange, but as rescuers approached the patient, they received new information that made it even stranger–and possibly quite dangerous. This new factor involved questions about the man’s vehicle, a Cadillac Escalade. Curious as to why someone who had been panhandling earlier would be driving such an expensive vehicle, a ranger had Park Dispatch run the vehicle’s Texas plate.

At about the same time the two rangers were being lowered to the man, Dispatch received some disconcerting information: a 48-year-old male who matched the description of the injured man was wanted in conjunction with a criminal investigation in Texas. This information added an entirely different safety issue to the rescue. So once they reached the area of the man, the two rangers drew their sidearms and approached him cautiously. He was lying on the ground moaning, with an apparent lowered level of consciousness. While holding their weapons on him, they padded him down and handcuffed him with his arms in front. He provided the rangers his first name, but would not offer any additional information.

Ready for Rescue
Meanwhile, rescuers at the top pulled up the two lines and began rigging for a rope rescue. They set an Arizona Vortex at the edge and then lowered a third rescuer (a park medic) along with a litter, backboard, spinal immobilization gear and other medical equipment, and extra restraints.

There were now three rescuers attending to the patient, and all three were needed because of two complications at the site: 1) the terrain was sloping and uneven, making it difficult to maintain spinal precautions while packaging the patient; and 2) the terrain was covered with low-standing, dense brush that’s typical of the Southwest, making it difficult to wrestle the litter through the thick vegetation to the bottom of the low cliff.

Considering the patient’s mechanism of injury and his apparent lower level of consciousness, rescuers determined that he would need to be transported by air to a nearby trauma center. Because of the law enforcement aspect, the Park requested assistance from the Arizona Department of Public Safety. DPS dispatched Ranger 1, a Bell 407, with a pilot and a paramedic who was also a law enforcement officer.

Once the rescuers had maneuvered through the obstructions to the base of the cliff, one rescuer used mechanical ascenders to get back to top and assist there. At the top, rescuers rigged a 5:1 haul system to raise the litter, with the Arizona Vortex assisting over the overhanging edge.

One rescuer tended the litter during the haul. He was attached to the litter both with the tail of the long-tailed bowline clipped to the litter, and with a “jigger,” a miniature 4:1 haul system that allowed the tender to raise and lower himself over the litter to help the litter clear obstructions during the haul.

Once at the top, paramedics initiated an IV. Rescuers then lifted the backboarded patient out of the litter and into DPS Ranger 1, which transported him to Flagstaff Medical Center at 1700 HRS. The patient later appeared at an initial hearing wearing a halo brace, indicating a spinal injury of some kind.

Sources: Grand Canyon National Park Ranger-Paramedic James Thompson provided information for this report. Some additional details were taken from accounts of the incident in the NPS Morning Report and from NBC Dallas-Fort Worth.

Lessons Learned/Lessons Reinforced:
Ranger James Thompson observes the following:
“The complexity of the call was increased because it included a law enforcement component (creating another level of rescuer safety concerns) and technical rescue component.

“Vegetation management was important. Having loppers would have been helpful. (Editor’s note: Loppers are long-handled pruning tools with clipper blades at the end, used to prune bushes and small trees and often used in park trail work.)

“Packaging a patient on an unstable sloping surface proved difficult and isn’t regularly practiced with only two or three providers.

“Use of the Arizona Vortex made the vertical raise and edge transition safer and less traumatic for the rescuer and patient.

“The patient’s injuries dictated that he be flown to the hospital. This transport decision was complicated by the fact that the patient was in police custody and a law enforcement officer needed to be present during transport. Use of Arizona DPS’s helicopter, which is staffed by peace officers–one who is also a paramedic–helped to resolve this problem.”