Rescue trifecta keeps park rangers hopping
By Richard Anderson, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
August 13, 2012
Grand Teton National Park officials responded to incidents by land, water and air this weekend, dealing with an automobile collision, investigating a flipped raft on the Snake River and assisting an ailing climber.
In each of the three events, no one was seriously injured.
The car crash occurred just before 3 p.m. Friday. According to a park press release, an Abilene, Texas, man and his wife were traveling southbound on Highway 26/89/191 near Gros Ventre Junction in their Jeep when they pulled to the west side of the road, intending to stop along the shoulder, a park press release said.
The man decided to pull back onto the highway, but failed to see a Chevy Astro minivan and struck it, causing it to crash into a guardrail.
Joanna Woodruff drove the van with three passengers, all Teton Science Schools employees. She steered the vehicle down a steep embankment before it came to rest upright in the river. Although no one was injured, a can of bear spray went off during the incident, “and the minivan passengers were affected by its discharge,” the park release said.
“Joanna was able to keep her wits about her and steer the van down that embankment,” park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said. “She kept the van upright and probably saved people from injury if not worse.”
Teton Interagency Dispatch was notified at 2:55 p.m., and rangers responded from park headquarters at Moose. Because the minivan’s gas tank ruptured, a Teton County hazmat team and battalion chief responded to clean up the spill. Skaggs said “several” gallons of fuel leaked into the river.
The accident snarled highway traffic on both lanes for several hours. Traffic was backed up beyond Fish Hatchery Road to the south, Skaggs said. Rangers were able to clear the scene about three hours after the initial call, the park statement said.
The Texas driver was cited for failure to maintain control of his vehicle, which brings a fine of $125.
Less than 10 minutes after receiving the call about the collision, dispatch received word of a raft carrying five people that had flipped three or four miles north of the boat ramp at Moose.
Karen Pond, of Boise, Idaho, was rowing the raft of her friend, Mary Jo McNamee, of Jackson, when she struck a downed tree, park officials said. The raft flipped and temporarily trapped some of the boaters before they were able to swim away and pull themselves out of the water, the release said.
Pond and her companions were not wearing life vests, Skaggs said, although they had them aboard their raft.
Shortly after, Triangle X Ranch river guide Scott Edwards came upon the scene. He called Teton Interagency Dispatch at 3:04 p.m., helped the five women board his raft and floated them with his paying guests to the Moose landing, where park rangers met the rafters and determined that none needed medical care.
Later that evening, a private boater came upon the boat and was able to free it and float it down to Moose, Skaggs said.
“The lesson here is don’t take the Snake for granted,” Skaggs said. “We have had other boaters who have lost their lives on the Snake, and more often that not it’s related to not wearing a life vest.”
Finally, on Saturday evening, park rangers used a helicopter to evacuate a climber off Teewinot Mountain after he became ill and was unable to continue his descent.
Park officials said a party of three had summited the 12,325-foot peak at about 2:15 p.m. They were making their way back down the mountain and had reached an elevation of about 9,700 feet, near two features called the Worshipper and Idol, when one of them, a 53-year-old man from Rock Island, Ill., began to experience severe pain, Skaggs said.
The party placed an emergency call around 6:20 p.m. Rangers were notified at 6:24 p.m. They called a Teton Interagency contract helicopter that inserted two rangers at the party’s location and evacuated the sick man to Lupine Meadows, where a park ambulance transported him to St. John’s Medical Center, a park release said.
The helicopter made it back to Jackson Hole Airport’s helibase at 8:57 p.m., just six minutes before the so-called “pumpkin hour,” Skaggs said. Helicopters are required to stop flying 30 minutes after official sunset. On Saturday, sunset was 8:31 p.m., and pumpkin hour was at 9:03 p.m.
“We were lucky we were able to get [the helicopter] in time to affect his rescue,” said Skaggs, who had no information about the exact nature of the climber’s illness.