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Learning rescue lessons

NWS rescue training 1 KA 6-17-11
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WOLCOTT – If you were driving through Wolcott on Friday morning and spotted rescue workers doing all sorts of rescue stuff, relax.

The National Mountain Rescue Association is in town, and they’re training.

Dozens of mountain-rescue types from all over the world are here, sharing what they’ve learned about helping people who really, really, really need it.

Like Friday’s exercise, for example.

There was this paraglider who crashed into a wall about 400 feet above the ground, and he was stuck there.

They had to cross the Eagle River in boats, ascend the wall 400 feet to the stuck and injured paraglider and rescue the dude in distress.

“It’s called a mid-wall pickoff. That’s fairly normal for most teams,” said Dan Smith, who helps run Vail Mountain Rescue.

They had an actual person on that cliff, said Neil Van Dyke, president of the National Mountain Rescue Association.

They got him down with ropes and ferried him across the raging Eagle River on a Tyrolean traverse they’d rigged up. That’s a rope system that goes over a river or gorge.

It’s all in a day’s work.

“It’s just our idea of fun,” Van Dyke said.

Saturday morning, they did a rescue from a simulated aircraft crash.

In between, they swapped stories and lessons learned, heard a few lectures, ran a command post at the Eagle County fairgrounds, did some business. You know … rescue stuff.

They’re joined by a Chinese delegation from the Chinese/Tibet Mountaineering Association. They had just gotten their visas the day before yesterday, and they were here for the weekend. They’re efficient.

Mountain-rescue people are usually mountain people first and come to the rescue part of it naturally.

“These are people who have some experience with mountaineering for recreation,” Van Dyke said. “They like being outdoors in a vertical environment and have been drawn into helping fellow climbers and others.”

The National Mountain Rescue Association holds an annual conference at various locations around the country. This weekend, they were at the Eagle Lodge and Suites in Eagle.

“These are some of the best mountain-rescue teams in the nation,” Smith said.

Vail Mountain Rescue founder Tim Cochrane was hosting this one, but he died a few weeks ago after battling cancer.

“Unfortunately, he’s not with us to enjoy it,” Van Dyke said.

The weekend is, in part, to honor him.

“This was Tim Cochrane’s last Mountain Rescue Association event. This was his baby. We started working on this in December,” said Stephanie Samuelson, who’s helping coordinate the event.

Mountain-rescue groups, including Vail Mountain Rescue Group, are nonprofit groups of volunteer men and women. They are trained and prepared to respond to any type of back-country emergency, Smith said.

The Vail Mountain Rescue operates primarily in Eagle County, although it will respond anywhere in Colorado or anywhere else, if needed.

They specialize in avalanche search and rescue, downed aircraft search, wilderness search and helicopter rescue techniques.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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