Rescuers Save Life of Backcountry Skier

By on March 4, 2017

A depiction of a short-haul rescue in Grand Teton National Park circa 2013. (Photo: National Park Service)

JACKSON HOLE, WY — On Friday the heroic efforts of Grand Teton National Park rangers and members of Teton County Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue saved the life of backcountry skier Mike Connolly, 61, of Idaho Falls, after he went into cardiac arrest in GTNP.

At approximately 3 p.m., Teton Interagency Dispatch received a call about a backcountry skier having severe chest pains, according to a press release issued Saturday by GTNP spokesperson Denise Germann. The reporting party, on the Southwest Ridge of Maverick Peak, provided GPS coordinates via cellphone. Connolly was skiing with three family members and friends.

By helicopter, three county search and rescue members conducted a quick aerial reconnaissance of the area and then landed to configure for a short-haul operation, Germann recounted. Via short-haul, a park ranger and county member with basic life support equipment landed on the scene. Short-haul, Germann explained, is a rescue technique where an individual or gear is suspended below the helicopter on a 150- to 250-foot rope. This method allows a rescuer more direct access to an injured person, and it is often used in the Tetons where conditions complicate landing a helicopter in steep and rocky terrain.

Connolly went into cardiac arrest while rescuers were flying to the scene. When the rescuers arrived, members of Connolly’s party had already begun CPR on the skier who had no pulse and was not breathing. After rescue personnel used an automated defibrillator, Connolly regained a pulse and began breathing. Soon he was also verbally communicating with those around him, Germann noted.

Rescuers continued the operation short-hauling additional search and rescue personnel and medical supplies, and a litter to the scene. Search and rescue personnel packaged Connolly for a short-haul flight to the Portneuf Medical Center Air Ambulance waiting near the north end of Moose Wilson Road, Germann explained. Connolly was then transported to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.

One family member, along with search and rescue members, supplies and equipment were also short-hauled from the scene. A park ranger skied with the remaining members of the party, safely returning them to a trailhead parking area along Moose Wilson Road.

The rescue highlighted the swift, coordinated efforts of two agencies. “The persistent training and teamwork with the Teton County Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue Team helped to obtain the outcome that we always strive to achieve during these incidents,” said David Vela, GTNP superintendent. “As a result of this well-orchestrated effort, our skier has a very hopeful second chance in life.”

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About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine and former editor of Planet Jackson Hole. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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