Chugach rescue highlights shortcomings in backcountry system

Posted: Thursday, January 02, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska State Troopers are working with the Anchorage Fire Department to better coordinate their backcountry rescues.

It comes in the wake of a poorly coordinated rescue on Ptarmigan Peak last month in which it took three hours to get the victim to Providence Alaska Medical Center.

Troopers are working with the Anchorage Fire Department on a draft plan that creates a unified command as soon as city dispatchers know about a backcountry rescue, said Lt. John Papasodora, the troopers' statewide search and rescue coordinator.

The Anchorage Fire Department also plans to form a team trained in basic backcountry techniques to respond, said spokesman Tom Kempton.

''It's an effort to make sure we all have trained and properly equipped people to deal with backcountry response,'' Kempton said.

Rescuers airlifted Lori Bennett after she tumbled nearly 500 feet down an icy gully on Chugach Mountain near Flattop Mountain on Nov. 10.

But problems encountered on that rescue mission reinforced long-standing concerns about jumbled communications during rescues, authorities said.

Dispatchers initially struggled to figure out where Bennett was and how badly she was injured.

First on the scene were rescuers will less back country experience that late arrivals. And some responders brought equipment better suited for city emergencies.

Police and fire logs of the rescue show it took 20 minutes before dispatchers contacted the 210th Rescue Squadron based at Kulis Air National Guard base, which ultimately carried out the rescue.

Ultimately there were three helicopters on the scene along with police officers, firefighters, seasoned mountain rescue veterans, passing hikers and hospital nurses.

Officials said the response could have been faster and more efficient. Still, the agencies involved did a decent job of responding, Papasodora said.

''That doesn't mean it can't be better,'' Papasodora said.

Bennett, whose last memory of the event was sliding down the icy snow, told the Anchorage Daily News ''I'm just psyched they got there when they did.''

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