Thursday, March 5, 2009

Heavenly skiers need rescuing


March 5th, 2009
Time: 1:00 pm

In two days, between March 3rd and March 4th, 2009, members of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office Search & Rescue Team (DCSAR) responded to three separate incidents of lost skiers at Heavenly Valley Ski Resort. Through their valiant efforts, DCSAR rescued four persons in the process.

The first incident occurred Tuesday evening, 03-03-09, at approximately 7:00 pm.

Heavenly Valley Ski Resort Ski Patrol contacted the Douglas County Emergency Services Dispatch Center and reported that there was a lost snow-biker, Mike McKinney, lost somewhere on the mountain (snow-biking is a winter activity where a participant rides down a ski run on a bicycle equipped with ski treads rather than wheels).

The Ski Patrol reported that McKinney had called them via cell phone and reported he was lost and needed help. McKinney reported that he was stuck in deep snow out-of-bounds of the regular ski runs, and did not know his exact location.

The Ski Patrol advised dispatch they were unable to respond, and requested the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office deploy its Search and Rescue Team to do so.

Sixteen (16) DCSAR members were dispatched to the call during the severe winter snowstorm that night. Conditions were treacherous, with visibility was down to only a few feet at times due to the continually strong blowing snow. DCSAR team members faced additional danger from high avalanche danger warnings.

McKinney had reported that he went out-of-bounds somewhere near the Olympic chairlift, and based upon the direction McKinney had taken from the top of the mountain, coupled with surrounding topographic and geographic information obtained from McKinney during sporadic cell phone coverage, DCSAR members determined McKinney was likely located somewhere near the Edgewood Creek area, off the southern edge of Kingsbury Grade.

DCSAR members combed the area on foot and vehicles. Through sound and light detection, they located McKinney at approximately 10:00 pm.

DCSAR members escorted McKinney out of the deep snow area, and treated him for symptoms of severe cold distress.

The second incident occurred Wednesday afternoon, 03-04-09 , at approx 2:40 pm.

The Douglas County Emergency Services Dispatch Center received a 911 call via cell phone from a subject identified as 27 year-old Nicholas Gorman. Gorman, a resident of Stateline NV, advised he was stuck in deep snow on the mountainside below Heavenly Valley Ski Resort.

Gorman stated he had been snow boarding at Heavenly when he followed a trail outside the normal ski run area of the Heavenly Olympic run. Gorman advised he had become stuck in the deep snow. Gorman advised that the snow was too deep to walk in, and he could not get out. Gorman advised he was wet and cold.

DCSAR and Tahoe Douglas Fire Department personnel were dispatched to the area to search for Gorman. Gorman was located at approximately 4:27 pm, but due to his remote location and the threat of avalanche from loose, deep snow, SAR personnel were not able to get to him. A rescue helicopter was subsequently requested.

The Fallon Naval Air Station rescue squadron deployed a helicopter, and Gorman was extricated at approximately 5:55 pm. Gorman was then transported to Barton Memorial Hospital in South Lake Tahoe for treatment of suspected cold injuries.

The third incident occurred Wednesday evening, 03-04-09 , at approximately 4:45 pm.

DCSAR personnel were already on-scene at the Heavenly Valley Ski Resort, working on an unrelated search for a lost out-of-bounds skier, when they received a radio call from the Douglas County Emergency Services Dispatch Center advising that there were two additional skiers lost and stuck in the snow on the mountainside below Heavenly Valley Ski Resort.

The two lost skiers, 22 year-old Matthew Chiesa and 20 year-old Bernadette Leary, had contacted the dispatch center via 911, from Chiesa’s cell phone.

Chiesa reported that he and Leary, both of Denver Colorado, were lost and stranded in deep snow on the mountainside below the Heavenly Valley Ski Resort. Chiesa reported he and Leary were unable to extricate themselves and make their way to safety.

During the cell phone conversation with Chiesa, he reported that from the position he and Leary were stuck in, he could see the structure of Horizon Casino.

Based upon this information and other descriptive information regarding surrounding topographic and geographic sights, DCSAR members were able to locate the two lost subjects on the hillside behind the Park Cattle Company homestead.

DCSAR located and rescued Chiesa and Leary at approximately 1955 hrs. DCSAR escorted them out of the deep snow, and treated them for symptoms of severe cold distress.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office would like to remind all skiers and snowboarders that per Douglas County Code 9.08.030, it is a misdemeanor offense for any person who has used a ski lift or surface lift of a ski area/resort to ski outside of the resort boundaries, or ski under a manmade barrier designed to prohibit a skier from entering a closed portion of the ski area.

In addition to any criminal penalties, offenders may also be held liable for restitution to private or public entities providing service toward their rescue efforts.

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