GRANDFATHER MOUNTAIN — A number of emergency services entities met on Aug. 22 to discuss two helicopter rescues at Grandfather Mountain earlier this year.
Both instances required responses from the North Carolina Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team, which prevented emergency responders from performing risky and time-consuming high-angle rescues.
The first rescue took place on May 26, after a man injured his ankle on MacRae Peak. What would have been a seven-hour operation turned into a 30-minute rescue.
The next incident, on June 5, which took place in the Attic Window area of the mountain, would have taken more than six hours as well.
Another hiker was injured while hiking on Profile Trail on Aug. 14 that required a manual carryout that took six hours.
Watauga County Fire Marshal Taylor Marsh said the instances were the first times in recent memory NCHART had to be called in to assist with rescues on the mountain.
“We’ve never really had to use a helicopter to rescue somebody off the mountain but we ended up using it twice within a month,” Marsh said.
Taylor said the agencies involved in the brief meeting wanted to come together to discuss the unusual incidents and see how rescues could be improved in the future.
“We talked about communications quite a bit,” Marsh said, “because all the different agencies operate on different radio channels, and communications is probably always the biggest thing you’re going to run into in an event like that.”
Attendees also discussed criteria for determining when a helicopter rescue is necessary and when someone can be walked out.
Marsh added using resources more often does not affect their continued use in the future, but when resources are requested they need to meet the correct criteria.
“It is a very expensive resource so we have to be careful about the situations we request it,” Marsh said, citing that NCHART was used twice within a month with no issue because the situations met the criteria.
The N.C. Department of Public Safety recently announced the acquisition of two Bell 407 helicopters by the N.C. State Highway Patrol which will be participating in NCHART.
The announcement also stated rescue technicians are now being cross-trained on different aircraft.
The agencies involved in the recent local meeting were Avery County Emergency Management, Watauga County Emergency Management, Grandfather Mountain staff, N.C State Parks staff and N.C. Emergency Management.