Summer Search and Rescue Costs Start to Stack Up
51-year-old man had to be airlifted from Flattop Tuesday
ANCHORAGE - Every summer, hundreds of hikers lace up their boots and make the trek up Flattop Mountain: those who have made the climb before know there are a few things to keep in mind.
“It’s rocky up there, especially near the top,” said Rachel Gantt, ending her hike up the hill Wednesday afternoon. “It’s so easy to twist your ankle.”
Melanie Dittrich, who chose the path behind the hill with her two children, said she knows how quickly things can happen. Once, years ago, she said her mother-in-law had slipped on a patch of leftover snow and tumbled 15 or 20 feet down the steep incline. She snapped her ankle, and Dittrich said it took a helicopter and paramedic crew to bring her back to the road.
Tuesday evening, another hiker found himself in a similar situation: After slipping on a patch of snow, 51-year-old Marc Sierra was ultimately lifted from the mountain by the Alaska Air National Guard. The whole effort, which lasted several hours, involved six agencies, two helicopters and dozens of search and rescue personnel.
The Alaska State Troopers said its helicopter Helo 1 cost roughly $1,000 per hour to operate. The National Guard Pave Hawk racked up a $6,000 per hour tab. Search and rescue team members said it’s an expensive operation that happens all too easily.
“I’m surprised there’s not five incidents a day, seeing how many people slide off,” said Wayne Todd of the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group. “It’s all fun until you get out of control and someone gets hurt.”
Besides the troopers and National Guard, Tuesday’s rescue also involved Anchorage Fire Department medics who would go on to perform yet another rescue in a different part of town hours later. When three people became stranded on a rock in Turnagain Arm by one of the biggest bore tides of the year, it took an AFD water rescue team to pull them safely to shore through the rushing tide.
They said it’s a situation that’s happened more than once, and whether it happens in the water or on a peak, they said they’re prepared for an active summer. While it only takes a pair of hiking boots to get outdoors, sometimes the trip back isn’t so easy.