SAN FRANCISCO – The rotor blades of a helicopter landing on rugged, remote terrain struck a California Highway Patrol officer and severely injured him as he helped rescue an injured hiker, officials said Monday.
Officer Tony Stanley was one of two officers called out to pick up a hiker who had broken a leg and dislocated an ankle during a hike Thursday through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in Northern California, said CHP Lt. Scott Fredrick.
After the helicopter landed on what Fredrick described as a granite rock next to a steep embankment, Stanley was hit by the aircraft's rotor blades as he started to climb up the embankment to get to the hiker.
"It was a very remote area with basically sheer cliffs, granite and treacherous terrain," Fredrick said.
Because of privacy rules, the CHP is not revealing the exact nature of Stanley's injuries, or releasing his condition, but officials had initially described his injuries as "critical" and "life-threatening."
Stanley, 40, a 10-year-veteran of the agency, and trained as a flight officer/paramedic, remained hospitalized.
"He lives for this kind of stuff. He's a very tenacious and spirited officer, who has done this (performed rescues) many times," Fredrick said. "This is what he loves to do."
The accident is the latest of several involving rescues in mountainous areas in the West. On Sunday, a memorial service was held for Utah Highway Patrol officer who died during a June 30 search and rescue accident. Utah authorities say Officer Aaron R. Beesley, 34, lost his footing and fell from a 90-foot cliff to his death during the aerial rescue of two teenager hikers.
In Washington state, Mount Rainier climbing ranger Nick Hall, 33, died in a 2,400 fall last month after helping rescue four climbers from Waco, Texas.
California Highway Patrol officials said Monday that Stanley was lucky to be alive.
As for the injured hiker, the CHP has identified him as Jeremy Kilburn, a doctor who is a major with the U.S. Air Force, and has served as a trauma surgeon in Afghanistan.
Kilburn had suffered a broken leg and a dislocated ankle during a fall as he hiked with a friend, Dan Grasso, of Sunnyvale, Calif., through the forest near Big Bear Lake, the CHP said. Since Kilburn was unable to walk, Grasso and a group of hikers from a Santa Cruz youth group who had come upon the scene helped Kilburn down the embankment, so he could provide medical aid to the injured CHP officer.
The team of unlikely heroes, including the injured Kilburn, his hiking friend Grasso, the two hikers who had just arrived, identified by the CHP as Elizabeth Fitch and Bryce Harbert, both of Santa Cruz, Calif., and the CHP pilot, Officer Brian Henderson, loaded the critically injured Stanley onto the helicopter.
As the single-engine helicopter made the 41-mile flight to a Redding hospital, Fitch held IV bags and applied pressure to slow the injured officer's bleeding, while Kilburn directed, Fredrick said.
"We credit Dr. Kilborn and Fitch with saving the officer's life," Fredrick said. "These hikers were critical is saving his life, especially Kilborn and Fitch."
Kilburn, who serves as a critical care pulmonologist with the Air Force and is assigned to Nellis Air Force Base, outside of Las Vegas, Nev., was not available for comment Monday night, said Benjamin Newell, a civilian public affairs specialist at the base.
Attempts to reach Grasso, Fitch and Harbart were unsuccessful.