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Rescue on the Big Stone
September 30, 2011 4:21 PM   Subscribe

This week, an Austrian climber in Yosemite Valley took a fall on the granite monolith El Capitan. As he fell, his thumb caught in some climbing gear and was severed. Amazingly, the severed digit landed on the ledge beside the injured climber's partner, who retrieved it. Amazing helicopter rescue ensued.

Behind the rescue is YOSAR - the Yosemite Search and Rescue Team. They are a volunteer group of climbers, paddlers and others who manage technical rescues in the national park. You may have never heard of them, but some folks are very glad they are around.

ps: the thumb was surgically re-attached.
posted by tim_in_oz (42 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Darn lucky for him they were there.

Great folks, them.
posted by empatterson at 4:29 PM on September 30, 2011


If dude had gone to Vegas instead he'd be a millionaire.
posted by GuyZero at 4:31 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whew!

It took me a while to find them in that first photo. The scale is just incredible.
posted by Specklet at 4:31 PM on September 30, 2011


Okay, all climbers have to carry insurance and pay for rescues out of their own pocket, rather than at taxpayer expense, right?
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:35 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


OW OW OW OW OW OW OW OW OW OW OW OW
posted by shakespeherian at 4:41 PM on September 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


Okay, all climbers have to carry insurance and pay for rescues out of their own pocket, rather than at taxpayer expense, right?

I don't know about Yosemite, but all my friends who have had to be helicopter rescued out of other national parks, national forests, and various wildlands have ended up with six-figure debt as a result. So probably yes.
posted by The World Famous at 4:41 PM on September 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


And flying a helicopter that close to that wall and keeping it steady enough for a rescue is just . . . wow.
posted by The World Famous at 4:43 PM on September 30, 2011


Okay, all climbers have to carry insurance and pay for rescues out of their own pocket, rather than at taxpayer expense, right?

I don't know about Yosemite, but all my friends who have had to be helicopter rescued out of other national parks, national forests, and various wildlands have ended up with six-figure debt as a result. So probably yes.
posted by The World Famous at 7:41 PM on September 30 [+] [!]



This has happened to more than one of your friends?!
posted by Maisie at 4:44 PM on September 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


shakespeherian: "OW OW OW OW OW OW OW OW OW OW OW OW"

Both of my thumbs are curled up in the fetal position hugging my palms. Your comment covers it.
posted by Splunge at 4:45 PM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


This has happened to more than one of your friends?!

I have lived in danger country.
posted by The World Famous at 4:45 PM on September 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


You want a thumb? I can get you a thumb, believe me. There are ways, Dude. You don't wanna know about it, believe me.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:47 PM on September 30, 2011 [11 favorites]


..all my friends who have had to be helicopter rescued out of other national parks, national forests, and various wildlands have ended up with six-figure debt as a result.

I know Colorado passed a law putting the costs on the person being rescued, but I'm not sure about California.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:51 PM on September 30, 2011


Nice work! I don't think they'll be charged six-figures (maybe a couple of thousand, if anything?) for the YOSAR rescue. I'd be more concerned about what the hospital bill will be.
posted by Flashman at 4:55 PM on September 30, 2011


Flashman: "I'd be more concerned about what the hospital bill will be."

An arm and a leg.
posted by brundlefly at 4:57 PM on September 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


Nice work! I don't think they'll be charged six-figures (maybe a couple of thousand, if anything?) for the YOSAR rescue. I'd be more concerned about what the hospital bill will be.

They'd probably settle at a five digit number.
posted by 2bucksplus at 5:05 PM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


A friend of mine who is an avid hikers carries insurance that covers helicopter rescues. Premiums are very reasonable, but it might keep him from completely tanking his finances someday.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:05 PM on September 30, 2011


Nice work! I don't think they'll be charged six-figures (maybe a couple of thousand, if anything?) for the YOSAR rescue. I'd be more concerned about what the hospital bill will be.

i'm sure there's a rule of thumb for that sort of thing
posted by pyramid termite at 5:06 PM on September 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


i'm sure there's a rule of thumb for that sort of thing

Yeah, I hope they don't charge him an arm and a leg.
posted by mosk at 5:07 PM on September 30, 2011


A friend of mine got stuck on a wall in California and paid nothing for the helicopter rescue. Hooray for a social safety chopper!
posted by Wyatt at 5:09 PM on September 30, 2011


(thought, that said, I am not sure if he was covered by helicopter rescue insurance or not)
posted by Wyatt at 5:11 PM on September 30, 2011


👍
posted by hanoixan at 5:14 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


If dude had gone to Vegas instead he'd be a millionaire.

Not if he'd hitchhiked there.
posted by pracowity at 5:15 PM on September 30, 2011


HEY GUYS IS THERE A RULE OF THUMB FOR CHARGING HIM AN ARM AND A LEG?

oh
posted by cmoj at 5:27 PM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


But at least they didn't leave him hanging.
posted by cmoj at 5:27 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


they should make a movie out of this - "chopper and the wedgied thumb"
posted by pyramid termite at 5:33 PM on September 30, 2011


Okay, all climbers have to carry insurance and pay for rescues out of their own pocket, rather than at taxpayer expense, right?

Ah ha! So that the only people who can afford to take risks are the wealthy, meaning the rest of us have to stay inside and watch our telescreens. Big Brother is watching your career with interest. ;o)

The whole point of insurance is that you don't pay out of your own pocket, rather you pay for it out of the pockets of other insurees. The insurance company takes its slice for administering the process. Whether this results in a fairer distribution of risk than publicly funded services is up for debate.
posted by howfar at 5:34 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


The whole point of insurance is that you don't pay out of your own pocket, rather you pay for it out of the pockets of other insurees. The insurance company takes its slice for administering the process. Whether this results in a fairer distribution of risk than publicly funded services is up for debate.

! WHOA !
posted by hal_c_on at 5:37 PM on September 30, 2011


Somewhat related: Hiker Inspired By ’127 Hours’ Endures Own Nightmare in Utah Canyon
posted by kmz at 5:50 PM on September 30, 2011


A friend of mine got stuck on a wall in California and paid nothing for the helicopter rescue.

Dammit. I don't mean to threadjack or take anything away from the awesome bravery of YOSAR, but ISTR Hunter S. Thompson making this an issue way back in his campaign for Sheriff. He wanted to discourage snowmobilers, skiers and hikers from coming up into the mountains (especially by his ranch) by putting the costs of rescue on them. So I was always amused by this concept. And when I lived in Colorado, I did hear that this was implemented.

The whole point of insurance is that you don't pay out of your own pocket, rather you pay for it out of the pockets of other insurees. The insurance company takes its slice for administering the process. Whether this results in a fairer distribution of risk than publicly funded services is up for debate.

Well, the burden falls on the climbers, the insurance companies, and presumably reinsurance companies. I'd rather it fall solely on the climbers, but if Warren Buffett wants to sign on to some of that risk, I'm OK with that.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:58 PM on September 30, 2011


Okay, all climbers have to carry insurance and pay for rescues out of their own pocket, rather than at taxpayer expense, right?

It used to be that in colorado if you bought a fishing license, any sort of rescue was covered. This is a state by state thing though, and even a park by park thing. Obviously there is a serious search and rescue team for this area because it is so high use, but I had search and rescue called for me when I took a wrong turn and spent an extra day in the backcountry and wasn't charged a thing even though a helicopter was sent out.

That was an all volunteer ranger station in the middle of a not very travelled area though.
posted by TheBones at 5:59 PM on September 30, 2011


I don't think they'll be charged six-figures (maybe a couple of thousand, if anything?) for the YOSAR rescue.

Maybe somewhere in the single digits?

if Warren Buffett wants to sign on to some of that risk, I'm OK with that.

I'm sure he'll probably knuckle under.

Okay. All done.
posted by hal9k at 6:37 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've got some experience with this on a couple levels...
I've had digits severed and reattached a few times. I don't recommend it... its not a fun experience. None of those toes and fingers have full function anymore, but hey - they're connected and sorta work!

I'm also a Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician and big fan of billing idiots who require backcountry rescue. I don't think that applies here - seems like a straight up accident worthy of emergency resources. I'm pretty impressed that they had cell phone service though - I was just at El Cap a couple weeks ago and couldn't get a signal at all.
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:02 PM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


The original post says that YOSAR is an all-volunteer search and rescue team. That is not quite true. I've known a few YOSAR team members and I believe that they were all paid by National Park Service. At least one was an NPS employee in a different capacity then would get called out on rescues.

The Friends of YOSAR website says:

However, because of its history, YOSAR is structurally quite different from other SAR teams in that many of its critical functions are unpaid and voluntary. The French team at Chamonix, for example, is salaried; search and rescue is seen there – accurately - as a full-time job for which constant paid training is required. In other countries, such as India, mountain search and rescue is seen as an adjunct to military operations, somewhat comparable to the United States Coast Guard.

YOSAR team members that are not NPS employees are rated as various kinds of specialists by the National Park Service, and during a mission are paid at an hourly rate only for the hours worked.
posted by fieldtrip at 7:08 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


! WHOA !

Tut tut. If you'd just thought to tap out Alt+173 your obtuse and pointless sarcasm would at least be properly punctuated.
posted by howfar at 7:12 PM on September 30, 2011


Well, the burden falls on the climbers, the insurance companies, and presumably reinsurance companies.

Anybody who pays their insurance premiums also signs up for a portion of the risk. The risk involved in taking out insurance is that you don't need it and end up paying for other people's hospital bills etc. Given the expenses involved in running such a system, the public purse might be preferable in some circumstances.
posted by howfar at 7:25 PM on September 30, 2011


Wow. I had read the (text-only) story of this rescue, but the photos really brought it home. I stood in El Cap meadow just a couple years ago and can easily picture Half Dome and the scope of this rescue. The fact that it was dangerous enough to require the ranger to *spend the night on the ledge* with the other climber is amazing.
posted by bendy at 7:28 PM on September 30, 2011


We've got a similar group in Vancouver, British Columbia, called North Shore Rescue. The people they rescue aren't generally billed -- that's Canada for you -- but there has been talk of charging people for rescue costs if they've done something stupid like deliberately ski out of bounds. (Happens a lot here.) It's expensive to fly those choppers. Last I heard, the rescue people were against billing as they thought it would discourage people from calling them if they needed help. Glad all these people are out there risking their lives to help others.
posted by showmethecalvino at 8:08 PM on September 30, 2011


That's Washington for you too -- SAR activity here is generally not billed (though there may be some exceptions). Most of it is staffed by volunteers, though each county's Sheriff's office is responsible for the administration of the SAR program and that's where some of the funding comes from.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 10:26 PM on September 30, 2011


The vast majority of SAR calls in Yosemite (and pretty much everywhere else for that matter) go out to find lost or hurt hunters, hikers, snowmobilers and that lot. They rarely make the news because it's never quite as dramatic as stranded climbers. But for some reason that boggles my mind there are always comments like, "Okay, all climbers have to carry insurance and pay for rescues out of their own pocket, rather than at taxpayer expense, right?" If that's the case then shouldn't all unprepared hikers who have to be rescued for whatever reason also have to carry insurance and pay for rescues? Maybe everyone should just stay indoors and not venture outside.

In case you were wondering here's what the venerable Portland Mountain Rescue has to say about the subject:

However, the search and rescue community unanimously opposes charging for rescues because such charges may cause people to delay making a request for assistance for fear of incurring a fine.

Delaying rescue requests tends to make the situation more dangerous, increasing risks not only for the subject of the rescue, but also for the rescuers. Delayed requests lead to increased risks when the subject's condition deteriorates, the weather worsens, night falls, avalanche hazard increases, and a host of other potential threats.

It is critical to note that the bulk of rescue work is conducted by volunteer organizations who are supported by public donations and not tax dollars. Climber rescues have the highest contribution of volunteers, exceeded only by fixed-wing aircraft searches.

Here on Mt. Hood, the primary burden of rescues to taxpayers resides in funding the county sheriff's oversight of the rescue operation.

Helicopters are provided by the military, who use rescue flight time to fulfill regular training hours requirements that all pilots are required to complete. Pilots would be required to spend these hours in flight training regardless of a mountain rescue, and this rescue flight time provides superior training opportunities than mere training drills where no lives are at stake.

Though climbing accidents receive much media attention, statistically they represent only a small percentage of overall search and rescue incidents. In 2008, climbing accidents were 11th on the list of activities resulting in a search and rescue.


Well worth it to read the whole statement if this subject interests you. (I can't believe I just weighed in on this beaten to a pulp, dead horse subject, probably the beers I just consumed...)
posted by alpinist at 12:43 AM on October 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


Alpinist, you're talking about the use of public donations and training hours, and others are talking about the use of community tax dollars. Different story. (Although on the other hand, public donations vs. paying an insurance fund seems pretty similar to me).

However, if you're simply driving, and accidentally get into a wreck, who pays for the ambulance to get you to a hospital? You do, or at least someone's insurance does given you have some. Why should it be different for climbing? This doesn't even get into the higher degree of risk involved.
posted by razdrez at 6:39 AM on October 1, 2011


It's not a different story, my point was that very little tax dollars actually go in to any SAR organization. Most are staffed by volunteers and funded by donations from the public. Check out the Friends of YOSAR website, they're a non-profit that supports the YOSAR volunteers. While you're there you can check out their statistics page which shows that the vast majority of rescues go towards rescuing hikers, and climber rescues don't account for much of what they do. So should all those hikers be charged for their rescues as well?

I know a lot of SAR people and they absolutely love doing it and dedicate a ton of time and resources to training and responding to calls. The search and rescue community (the experts on the subject) are vehemently against charging for rescues. The outrage over misused tax dollars is pretty silly given that very little tax dollars actually go towards funding SAR and an even smaller percentage of that goes towards funding climbing rescues.

Everyone that climbs should join the American Alpine Club anyway, membership includes a $10,000 rescue benefit. (I know some folks have issues with the AAC, but they're getting better)
posted by alpinist at 10:26 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know California has big budget problems, but these guys don't seem to deserve the GRAR they're getting for having to be rescued. They were as prepared as I think anyone could be--I couldn't get cellphone coverage with pisspot AT&T almost anywhere in Yosemite, and not ony did they have coverage, they were able to put together a network of people to get a helicopter rescue going while still taking care to preserve the injured climber's thumb, well enough that it was able to be re-attached what must have been many hours later. And once injured guy and a friend were on their way to the hospital, the other hikers spent the night up on the ledge so as not to overload the helicopter, and don't seem to have run out of provisions or suffered any other hardships as a result.

This was just an unfortunate accident, not like someone stupidly going off-track without leaving anyone notice and without taking adequate supplies (like the 127 Hours guy, who had actually helped in rescuing others and still went off on his own like he only had half a brain*).

*Insert 'missing hand' puns here.
posted by misha at 6:43 PM on October 1, 2011


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