ZION NATIONAL PARK – The Kane County Sheriff’s Office, Zion National Park Rangers and others came together to respond to two separate canyoneering accidents in the same slot canyon over the span of three days.
The first incident occurred on June 29 when Kane County Dispatch received a call that a 21-year-old woman from Idaho had fallen between 40 and 60 feet in the Birch Hollow Slot Canyon. Kane County requested assistance in the matter and was answered by rangers from Zion National Park, Bureau of Land Management and Department of Natural Resources.
Kane County Sheriff Sgt. Alan Alldredge and National Park Service Chief Ranger Cindy Purcell served as the commanders of the Unified Command Rescue. Each party pooled its resources and set out to retrieve the woman who was identified only as “Ms. Moses,” of Pocatello, Idaho, in a statement from Zion National Park.
The interagency SAR team located Moses and rappelled down to her location and stabilized her. Suspected to have a possible hip fracture and significant internal injuries, the team put Moses into a full-body splint and raised her 90 feet out of the deeper part of the canyon.
The Interagency SAR team remained overnight with the stabilized patient. The following day an NPS Helicopter lifted a medic and Moses out of the canyon and delivered them to a helispot north of the Zion Ponderosa where a Life Flight Medical ship was standing by.
Moses’s accident was caused by the incorrect use of a technique referred to as simul-rappelling: they did it with a nonexperienced person on one side of the rope and Moses on the other counterbalancing each other’s weight. Simul-rappelling is considered an advanced skill by many in the canyoneering community.
“She was still 40-60 feet from the bottom of the rappel when her tandem partner touched down and apparently let go,” Purcell said.
The canyoneering party admitted to the rescuers that they were in the process of trying to pass another group in the canyon and that their attention was divided between the task at hand and their next move.
The party also told the SAR team they had purposefully packed “light because they didn’t think anything bad would happen.”
“Canyoneers need to have the ability to ascend ropes,” Purcell said. “They should carry extra food, headlamps, and a water purification system in case something goes wrong and they need to spend the night.”
On Monday, Alldredge received a call reporting a second accident with injuries at the same rappel location in Birch Hollow.
A 21-year-old woman, identified as Ms. Lindstrom-Demant of Oregon, new to canyoneering and rappelling, had rappelled off the end of her rope and fallen 20-25 feet. She and her partner apparently misjudged the length of the rappel.
The victim was the first to descend, sustaining spinal and lower limb injuries. A second canyoneering party hiked out and notified Kane County Dispatch. Kane County, Zion National Park, BLM and state park rangers reacted quickly and once again formed a Unified Command Rescue.
The patient was accessed, stabilized, and raised out of the slot. The NPS helicopter was again used to lift the victim out of the canyon to an awaiting Life Flight medical ship in an amazing span of six and one-half hours.
Both of these incidents were successful, Zion’s release on the matters stated, because of the great working relationship of the numerous agencies involved.
“Canyoneering and Rappelling have an inherent risk associated with them,“ Alldredge said. “When you add haste and inexperience, it can result in injury or even death. As the canyons of Southern Utah and Zion National Park grow in popularity, we urge everyone to come prepared with the proper skills and equipment so their outings end successfully and without mishap.”
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