An elderly woman was injured hiking on Piestewa Peak near Phoenix Tuesday morning, and footage of her “rescue” is nauseating.
Phoenix Fire Department Capt. Rob McDade told Fox 10 “firefighters made patient contact and decided that the best course of action was to fly the patient off the mountain” near 24th Street and Lincoln Drive.
WILD HELICOPTER RESCUE: Firefighters say a 74-year-old woman had to be flown off of Piestewa Peak this morning after she suffered an injury while hiking.
— FOX 10 Phoenix (@FOX10Phoenix) June 4, 2019
The rescue was anything but a smooth flight, as the “74 or 75-year-old” woman loaded into the “basket” beneath the rescue helicopter soon began to spin. Video posted online shows the woman whirling underneath the aircraft for more than a minute, at times violently fast, as rescue workers frantically attempted to stop the chaos.
The rescue team repeatedly raised and lowered the load, and one team member even stuck a foot outside the aircraft, in an attempt to stop the wild spinning, but it didn’t work. Eventually, officials said, they headed to a landing site about a half-mile away and the forward momentum slowed the spinning.
Paul Apolinar, head of the helicopter rescue team, explained what happened at a press event after video of the rescue generated a lot of attention on social media.
“It was a normal rescue. Sometimes when we bring the helicopter up from the ground, it will start to spin, so we have a line attached to the basket to help prevent that. Today it didn’t,” he said. “The basket started to spin. It’s something that’s a known phenomenon in the hoist rescue industry, so we train for it. We did a couple of procedures to stop it, try to mitigate it, and to eventually get her into the basket.”
Derek Geisel, the pilot in command, elaborated on how the crew attempted to correct the problem, and why it didn’t work.
“This has happened in the past, but it’s been quite a while,” he said. “In the past we’ve kind of learned some of the techniques to get rid of it and one, you can probably actually see in the video, is they start to lower the load and it actually does start to stop so we slowly brought it back up and it gets into the same downwash from the aircraft and it started to spin again.
“They tried to stop some of the spin with the line that Paul was referring to, but that didn’t work and it actually eventually broke, so we brought down again and brought it back up, hoping some of the spin would lessen, which it didn’t obviously,” Geisel continued. “So the next to last step was to get some forward flight, which I did. And once I got the forward flight … the spin got quite a bit less to the point they were safely able to bring the patient up to the aircraft and we could land. And our landing zone probably wasn’t much more than a half mile from where she was hurt.”
Apolinar said of the 210 mountain rescues that the crew has used the hoist in the last six years, the out-of-control spinning has only occurred twice.
“I think the last time it happened was three to four years ago, so it’s very rare,” he said.
Phoenix Fire Capt. Bobby Dubnow claimed the woman, who was not identified, suffered “no ill effect from that spin, other than being a little bit dizzy.”
Medics “absolutely addressed the fact that she did spin,” he said. “She had a little bit of some dizziness and some nausea that they were able to give some medications for, and reports from the hospital are that she is stable and suffered no effects from the spin.”
Dubnow said the initial rescue report indicated the woman suffered a ground-level fall with injuries to her face and head. The woman was reportedly already dizzy and unable to walk when the rescue team arrived, he said.
Fire Capt. Kenny Overton confirmed to The Arizona Republic the woman suffered a facial laceration, possible broken nose, and injuries to her wrist and hip as a result of the fall, but no injuries from the nightmare rescue.