Grand Teton rangers rescuing 16 mountain climbers injured in storm

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rangers rescue Grand Teton climbers after storm

GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. — Rescue teams used helicopters to remove 16 injured climbers from an exposed mountain in Grand Teton National Park on Wednesday after a thunderstorm and severe lightning struck the area, a park spokeswoman said. One climber was still unaccounted for Wednesday night.

Three separate climbing parties reported injuries after the storm hit around midday. The groups were all above 13,000 feet on the 13,770-foot Grand Teton mountain, spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said.

Suspended from helicopters by rope, rangers plucked the climbers from the mountain and carried them to aid stations at lower elevations. Wednesday night, the climbers notified emergency officials of a 17th climber who had not been accounted for, park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said.

“We thought we had everybody, but it seems when they got to interview everybody finally, we’re still looking for one final climber who is unaccounted for,” Skaggs said at 9:15 p.m. MDT. “They’re still in the process of doing an aerial reconnaissance to see if they can locate the one missing person.”

Helicopters took the rescued climbers first to a temporary shelter on a mountain saddle at 11,600 feet and then down to an operations base on the valley floor and waiting ambulances, Skaggs said.

The climbers’ identities and hometowns weren’t available, Skaggs said. Their injuries were the result of being struck by lightning — either directly or indirectly — and included burns and neurological effects such as numbness.

Nine climbers were taken to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson, said hospital spokeswoman Karen Connelly.

The hospital discharged three of the patients and transported a fourth to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center for treatment of potentially serious injuries. The five others were being evaluated Wednesday night, Connelly said.

“All of the patients that we saw were evaluated and treated for injuries related to lightning strike, and those injuries included minor trauma and burns,” Connelly said. “Most of the patients are in fair to good condition.”

Connelly said some of the rescued climbers had declined to go to the hospital.

Skaggs said one of the groups was only 100 feet below the summit of Grand Teton mountain when the storm struck. Another was 400 feet down and the third about 570 feet down, she said.

To rescue climbers at that elevation, emergency helicopters lowered the suspended rescuers to the climbers. The rescuers then placed the climbers either into evacuation suits, or if they were more seriously injured, onto stretchers, to be moved to the temporary shelter on the mountain saddle, Skaggs said.

In 2003, a climber died from a lightning strike on the Grand Teton.

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