San Juan County, CO – In a remarkable demonstration of teamwork, skill, and dedication, multiple rescue teams combined forces to save a 79-year-old Colorado mountaineer after a severe fall near the top of V8 Peak on August 9, 2023. The 18-hour operation involved helicopters, mountain runners, and over 25 rescuers who worked tirelessly to navigate the rugged alpine terrain.
On Wednesday evening, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office and Silverton Medical Rescue were alerted by a witness who saw the victim fall about 200 feet down a talus field just below the 13,200-foot summit of V8 Peak. The victim, an experienced mountaineer, was hiking with a partner when the accident occurred.
Two teams of rescuers were dispatched, including mountain runners who made initial access in just 1 hour and 40 minutes. A second team with more gear followed for a hike lasting about 2 and a half hours. They found the victim on top of the eastern ridge of Peak V8, suffering severe injuries. The terrain and the victim’s condition made extrication during the night too risky, leading to a bivouac at the scene.
At first light, helicopters from the Air National Guard High Altitude Training Center (HAATS) and Colorado Hoist Team performed a complex extrication of the subject via a Blackhawk helicopter. Flight For Life then transported the subject to Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango, CO. The total mission utilized 2 helicopters and involved 16 members from Silverton Medical Rescue, 6 members from La Plata Search & Rescue, and various other support personnel.
Tyler George, Director of Silverton Medical Rescue, lauded the team’s efforts, stating, “This work is hard, the environment is rugged, and the job is mostly unpaid and thankless, yet they continue to respond with skill and professionalism. I am incredibly proud to be a part of this team.”
Lessons Learned and Mountain Safety Tips
This rescue is the second high-consequence mission Silverton Medical Rescue has responded to this week and emphasizes the need for caution and preparedness when venturing into the wilderness:
- Know Your Terrain: Understanding the complexity of the terrain and having appropriate gear is vital.
- Travel with a Partner: Always have someone with you who can seek help if needed.
- Carry Communication Devices: The use of a Starlink satellite connection in this incident was crucial for alerting authorities.
- Consider Your Fitness and Skill Level: The victim’s experience as a mountaineer likely contributed to his survival.
- Have an Emergency Plan: Ensure that you have a well-thought-out plan in place should things go wrong.
- Support Local Search and Rescue Teams: These often volunteer-run organizations provide vital services and deserve community support and funding.
Learn more in our comprehensive mountain safety guide to ensure your safety in all your mountain adventures. You can also consider buying a Colorado Search and Rescue (COSAR) Card to support first responders.