An Austrian man who severed his thumb while climbing El Capitan was rescued by helicopter Monday afternoon by Yosemite Park rangers.
The man and a climbing partner were ascending El Capitan's Nose Route, a difficult avenue up the 7,569-foot granite monolith. After two days of climbing, the lead climber fell. The fall wasn't life-threatening, but a rope became wrapped around his right thumb, severing it from his hand. The thumb fell 80 feet and landed on a 2-foot-by-1-foot ledge. The man's climbing partner retrieved the thumb and then called the park's emergency office for help.
Just before 4 p.m., the park's contract helicopter, piloted by Richard Shatto, along with Helitec crewmembers Jeff Pirog and Eric Small and Yosemite rangers Jeff Webb and Dave Pope, flew from the valley floor to assess the situation. The weather was favorable with light winds, but darkness was an issue. Medical personnel only had a short window of time to successfully reattach the thumb, so incident commander Eric Gabriel decided to rescue the injured climber with a technique called a "short haul," in which park rangers are suspended from a rope below the helicopter.
"This was an incredibly technical and complex rescue mission with a lot of inherent risk," Gabriel said. "However, knowing that the thumb could be reattached, coupled with the confidence I have in my team, I made the decision to attempt this rescue. I was relieved, and thrilled, that this ended successfully and we were able to make a positive difference in this person’s life."
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The helicopter hovered near the climbers and the rangers were short-hauled to the injured climber. The injured climber was then flown to the ground, where he was transferred to an air medical helicopter and flown out of the park for medical treatment.
Ranger Webb stayed on El Capitan overnight with the other climber. The next day, Webb helped him ascend the last 1,000 feet of the climb.
The injured climber's thumb was reattached in a surgery at California Pacific Medical Center, Davies Campus, in San Francisco.
-- Posted by Brandon Bowers