Post #48: Credit to the SAR Teams for Jeff Lodico
Lets give credit where credit is due. Jeff is currently in stable condition at Swedish Hospital in Denver. He is improving and getting ready to undergo surgery for his right hand and is recovering from a punctured lung from the fall and a broken arm, and damaged legs. He has an incredible will to survive, and so please continue to pray for him.
I wanted to take the time to thank the Aspen and West Elk Search and Rescue and Everyone involved in getting Jeff lifted off the ledge and to a helicopter. I also want to address all the people out there who were not there but are acting pessimistic towards me and my role in this rescue. Just like with what happened on Everest, I merely decided to help someone in need and nothing more. My role was small compared to the efforts of the SAR and helicopter teams. In the grand scheme of things, by climbing up there to lend a hand, I would have expected the same in return if it were me that had fallen. To the Lodico family I am very appreciative of your thank you notes and emails, especially the personal notes from family members Joe and Chris and I also want to make it clear to everyone out there that I just felt compelled to help someone in need that day because that is what experienced climbers do for one another in any tough mountain situation.
Here is another excellent detailed account of Jeff’s rescue for anyone that wants to read further. Bill Brunner, who I met up on the mountain that day when the rescue teams arrived comments on the rescue of Jeff:
Here is my account of the “rescue” of Jeff Lodico last Sunday. It is from memory. I did not take any notes. Some of the times are probably wrong. Its is only my perception of that long and many faceted day. When Jeff did not return to camp, his climbing party pushed the 911 button on a Spot beacon about 8:30 pm Saturday evening. This call for help was relayed to the Gunnison County Sheriff, who alerted the West Elk Mt. Rescue group. A call went out about 9:30 pm for volunteers to assemble at our equipment shed in Paonia at 7:00 am Sunday. Some of our people showed up at 6:00 and started loading up gear. We left Paonia about 7:15 with about 14 people. Got to Marble about 8:15 for a briefing by Sheriff Bill Heart. There was a report of people talking to Jeff during the night from a perch at 13,800 ft, near the top of Snowmass Mt. The mountain air was so still they could almost carry on a conversation across nearly a mile and thouslands of vertical feet. Jeff said he was stuck and needed help. There was nothing anyone could do for him. They asked if he was injured, and he did not respond. There was said to be a last communication near dawn Sunday, but Jeff sounded “much diminished”. It must have been a long cold night. Two of our people stayed at the Marble firehouse as incident command. Two of our strongest took off on an ATV with light packs as a “hasty team” to get up the trail quickly to see what they could sort out. The rest of us proceeded to the trail head in 4×4 vehicles. We got to there after 9:00 and divided up the gear, forming two groups of 5. West Elk is not usually a climbing rescue group, though we practiced raising and lowering people in a litter. We equipped one of the two groups with our ropes and lowering gear, and another group of 5 loaded up a litter and back board, sleeping bags and related items. The group with the climbing gear was more lightly loaded and set off ahead. Two others took a truck back up to the crest of the divide between Marble and Lead King Basin to act as a vital radio relay because a translator we usually rely on was out of service. Without these people as radio relay, communication with the outside world would have been impossible. We were heading into some of the most rugged Wilderness in the lower 48. About 11:30 we heard on the radio from the hasty team that they had observed a person who turned out to be Jon Kedrowski make contact with Jeff at about 12,600 feet. Jon was camping in the area and heard about a missing climber from other campers. He took it on himself to investigate. Apparently Jeff was injured, but was able to wave and hail Jon at that time. He was perched precariously on a slopping ledge about 70 feet off rough talus. Jon made his way to Jeff and kept him from rolling down that last 70 feet. He wrapped him in a bivy sack and gave him what comfort he could. It was lucky that our team observed Jon, as they were looking much higher on the mountain. (the mountain is so big that it is very difficult to spot a person, even with binoculars.) They set off and reached Jeff about a half an hour latter, probably around noon. They radioed a message back that Jeff was in critical condition, which the Sheriff needed to hear to mobilize helicopter support. About that time another rescue group from Gunnison, Western State Mt. Rescue, with an EMT and with more experience in roped rescues, arrived at the trail head. They decided to wait for a chopper to ferry their climbers and EMT in with their gear closer to Jeff’s location. Another group from their team started walking in. The next West Elk team reached Jeff about 1:00 or 1:30. We soon realized we needed to wait for the Western State team because we lacked the proper gear to set the bullet proof anchors we would need to lower Jeff and the littler attendants down the cliff. The Western State team had an EMT, which we wanted to have on hand to treat and direct handling Jeff. Also, our litter was so heavy it would take our group another few hours to get to the site, though they kept moving up. We took turns in teams of 3, comforting Jeff, trying to keep him still, warm him and keep him from rolling off. He was mostly unconscious, but when he roused, he was combative and incoherent. At least the sun shone most of the afternoon and it was not violently windy or cold. The fall Aspens were so golden,the sky was so vivid, as the clouds raced past the surrounding peaks in that stark and beautiful place above timberline. Those not tending to Jeff cleared the area of loose rock while we waited for others to arrive. Some of the rocks we tossed off crashed hundreds of feet down the mountain side before coming to rest. A flight for life chopper from Colorado Springs arrived and ferried 3 Western State climbers, one an EMT, as close as he could in the early afternoon. It was not close enough, a thousand feet bellow and a mile away. The chopper was low on fuel and had could not wait for Jeff to be brought down. Our hearts sank as it left. The West Elk team relayed to the Sheriff an urgent request that he pull what ever strings he had to and call in DBS Helicopter Service, out of Riffle. We know this pilot to be amazing. He flies where angles fear to tread. Sheriff Bill Heart came through big time, and DBS was mobilized. It was probably around 4:00 pm when the the Western State team reached Jeff. The got him on oxygen and stabilized his broken bones in a whole body vacuum splint. They had a titanium litter that one man was able to pack in, which we loaded Jeff into. They set up the anchors we needed, and a team of 3 from the two groups “walked” the litter down as it was lowered to the talus, where others were waiting below that final 70 ft. cliff. The talus at that point is very steep, near the angle of repose and very rough. About 6 or 7 people from the Western State team as well as the rest of the West Elk group had reached the foot of the cliff by this time. Using all the rope from both groups and help from many hands, Jeff was lowered down about 500 ft. to a point where we hoped the DBS bird could hover, touching a skid, and pick Jeff up. Night was very near by now, the temperature was starting to drop, and Jeff was not doing well. The pilot from DBS, Doug Sheffer took off from Riffle, flew to Aspen to pick up a member of the Aspen Rescue team that he has works with regularly, then threaded his way up between the peaks, closing in on the GPS coordinates that had been radioed to him as Jeff’s location. He came in spot on, touched a skid down on unstable talus while his assistant jumped out and then began “experimenting” with places to “touch” his bird to the mountain. The man from Aspen Rescue briefed the people on the ground about loading procedure and how to avoid death by helicopter blade. He took about 3 to 5 minutes. By that time the pilot had decided on the “best” place to touch his skids among the boulders. He stuffed his bird in there and signaled for the litter. This was not happening on flat ground, and only the front portion of his skids was mashed in among the boulders on the mountain side. Carrying the litter was like walking over VW’s tumbled on top of each other and cascading down the hill. They carried Jeff to the chopper, the guy from Aspen jumped in and the people on the ground handed Jeff up. At some point in the process someone put a little unexpected weight on the chopper, which cause it to suddenly lurch back an alarming 10 or 15 degrees like it would fall into the gorge below. The pilot corrected, every one persevered, and Jeff was stowed on board. The door was barely pulled to before pilot Doug Sheffer fire-walled the throttle, backed off the talus a few feet, and swooped not up, but down and away away, almost falling into the valleys below, calling on the radio that Jeff would be at the Aspen Hospital in 4 minutes. So near and so far! Anyway, we gathered up the gear and stumbled back down toward the trail below in the gathering darkness, so happy that Jeff was out of there and not relying on us to carry him out. It would have been physically impossible for the 20 of us to have gotten him out of there that night, so rugged was the terrain and so near was the limits of our strength. I think it is very likely that Jeff spent Saturday night, in sub-freezing temperatures, near the top of Snowmass Mt., that he may have had some of his injuries then, but that he worked his way down Sunday morning, nearly reaching the talus before falling and receiving sever injuries. It is likely that he had fallen just minutes before Jon found him, as he was able to hale Jon, but a half hour latter he was nearly unconscious. He is very lucky. Had he tumbled just inches further, he would have been gone. We wish Jeff well and hope for his complete recovery.
-Bill Brunner One of many West Elk Mountain Rescue.
Thanks Bill and lets continue to keep Jeff in our thoughts.
For more information, please click here.