Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Night Rescue Challenges Not Only Rescuers

Last week I had a breaking news assignment that brought challenges and excitement. A stranded climber was rescued in the dark on January 10, 2009. I received the call around 6:40pm that Butte County Search and Rescue had traveled up to Diversion Dam above Bear Hole to help rescue a “frequent free climber” who had become trapped on the canyon wall. I was coming from a Butte women’s basketball game when I decided to head to Upper Bidwell Park to see what would be done as a rescue for the man.

Butte County Search and Rescue Dan Newman, Tom Chisholm, and Brett Eagan (left to right) await orders as they work to help a man trapped on the edge of the canyon wall above Diversion Dam in Upper Bidwell Park Friday, January 10, 2009. (Jason Halley/Chico Enterprise-Record)

CHP H-2 helicopter flies over Big Chico Creek to assist Rescue Techs in who were deployed to rappel down the canyon wall to help the victim. (Jason Halley/Chico Enterprise-Record)

Butte County Search and Rescue Dan Newman listens on the radio to CHP H-2 helicopter that transported rescue techs across the canyon. (Jason Halley/Chico Enterprise-Record)
The evening sun had disappeared behind the mountains as a full moon shone in the nightfall. With several fire trucks and emergency vehicles, there was plenty of light around the parking lot where they staged. However, I did not know how much light was around the victim. In fact I had no idea where the victim was located. Chico Fire’s Marie Fickert was on scene to give me information as to the condition of the climber. Luckily the man was not injured and was pretty secured on the cliff side. He just felt it unsafe to climb down or continue upward. A friend of his had called police. With the man not in need of a rushing rescue, emergency personnel took their time in order to make sure there was no faulty procedure. They could have worked much faster, but the victim was in communication and was OK waiting, as long as he would be safe.

A team of firefighters carry a ladder in the dark that will be used to help the victim cross the creek after he is rappelled down by rescue personnel. (Jason Halley/Chico Enterprise-Record)

A slow exposure is illuminated by the full moon that gave little light to the rescue personnel during their operation. (Jason Halley/Chico Enterprise-Record)

Shae Enrique, 30 from Gridley, is seen more than 100ft below rescue techs. (Jason Halley/Chico Enterprise-Record)
The conditions were very cold and dark. I could only count my blessings that the weather was not as cold as it had been and there was a full moon out to give some kind of light into the dark canyon. The low temperature that day was 34 degrees, and it sure felt colder. With little tree coverage, winds roar through the canyon giving a much colder wind chill. The other issue was that a CHP helicopter created a chilling wind as it was used to carry rescue techs across Big Chico Creek to rappel down to help the victim. It was nice that the man was OK, but dealing with low light and low temperatures made for a very different type of rescue. As the rescue techs began their rescue, I was able to see the operation from the other side. I tried to keep very still and not shiver as I was hand-holding the camera at 1 and 2 second exposures. When the spotlights were used I could speed it up to about 1/15 or 1/20 a second. I used my surroundings to give me more support. I leaned against the rocks and trees to brace myself for the slow exposures.

Shae Enrique, 30, is spotlighted by firefighters as he awaits to be rescued Friday night, January 10, 2009. (Jason Halley/Chico Enterprise-Record)

A team of 8 individuals, which included 3 Company 1 volunteers and 5 Rescue Techs made up from Chico Fire and Butte County Search and Rescue descend down more than 100 ft to help the Shae Enrique. (Jason Halley/Chico Enterprise-Record)

Shae Enrique, 30 from Gridley, is rescued by firefighter Steve Andrews after spending 4 hours trapped on the cliff side of Upper Park. (Jason Halley/Chico Enterprise-Record)

Shae Enrique, and firefighter Steve Andrews rappel down the canyon wall to safety after spending 4 hours trapped on the cliff side of Upper Park. (Jason Halley/Chico Enterprise-Record)

I was able to take my time to take a lot of images. In the end, because the incident came without injury, it was pretty exciting. I managed to stay quite a bit. I wish I could have stayed till the end, but as always, deadline is waiting.

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