Battleship Rock Rescue 
Thursday, September 6, 2018, 07:22 PM - AMRC
Posted by Administrator
I managed to free up most of a workday to head up to Battleship Rock in the Jemez for a midweek search. I arrived about 11:30am to Incident Base to find many teams were already out. I spent a long time brainstorming with the incident commander about search plans and talking to the reporting party. The 71 year old father and 20 year old autistic son had been missing since yesterday afternoon.

Groups had searched all the logical areas (streams, trails, etc.) in the immediate area so the IC sent the next team to search around Jemez Falls. He asked if I would join but I suggested that Brendan and I search around surrounding cliffs. Brendan and I believed they would be within a mile of the point last seen and suspected the father had been disabled and the son couldn't get help.

We took off and searched around Battleship Rock and then started searching the cliffs south of the ridge. We worked up and over to the north and encountered a huge ravine. We kept shouting (verbal attraction). We contoured around to get into the canyon, where we planned to walk out back to base. To get in, we descended a steep loose hillside and then walked down the dry riverbed. One of the other teams had searched the stream earlier that morning, so we weren't expecting to see anything at that point.

After a bit, springs filled the canyon with a few inches of water and we had to bushwhack and sneak through the deepening brush. We passed waterfalls, tent rocks, and then entered a steep-walled canyon. We were getting very close to the intersection of the trail when I spotted someone in the fetal position in the creek. "Hey! Are you Patrick?" I yelled. No response, but he looked up. The young man was completely nude with his hands and feet in a couple foot waterfall. Luckily the sun was shining into the canyon and the temperatures were reasonably warm. He was clearly injured with a blackeye and multiple scrapes. "Patrick, we've been looking for you!" I was warned by his mother that Patrick could be aggressive and would pull hair, so I kept a little distance at first. But then I moved closer and pulled him out of the stream and up onto the trail, gave him my jacket and covered him up. He reached for me and I reluctantly couched down to see what he needed. He wrapped his arms around me and gave me a hug - thankful to have Brendan and I there to assist. We gave him food and water, called in the find, and medical status/vitals. Patrick didn't say anything. "Where are your shoes Patrick?" Nothing "Do you know where your father is?" Nothing. I walked down the trail and found his shirt, shorts, and a sock in the stream. Only 150' downstream from Patrick was an unavoidable 50-60 ft waterfall. Ironically, Brendan and I were about to be cliffed out and forced to backtrack. The first team didn't search in this area because they went up and around this section of the canyon. I called the IC and let him know that this would be turning into a technical rescue and what equipment we'd need: rigging kit, 200' rope, 3 harnesses and 3 helmets. Brendan and I weren't expecting to need climbing gear, so we left everything in the cars. Even with it, we wouldn't have been able to get off the cliff since Patrick couldn't support his own weight and he didn't have any clothing. So we waited for support.

It took the firefighters a little more than 2 hours to get into the canyon by walking around the long way even though we were only 1/4 mile from the parking lot. In that time, Patrick continued to drink and took a nap. His pulse was fast - probably from the dehydration - but stable. It was clear that he wouldn't be walking out under his own power. I let the IC know that we needed a litter and wheel at the base of the waterfall. With only Brendan there, I didn't want to run a full rescue system, and opted to rappel with Patrick. While the EMS team assessed Patrick, I spearheaded the technical rescue. We built an anchor, halfed the rope and created to rap lines. I got in the firefighter harness (fairly comfy, with an integrated harness). Patrick was helped down the trail to the cliff. They didn't have an ATC so I rigged up a brake rack for the rappel, though I didn't know how many bars to use. At the last minute someone arrived at the bottom with my climbing equipment, so I switched out to my ATC. I clipped the patient into my system and we approached the edge. Patrick couldn't support his own weight so Brendan and a firefighter helped move him toward the edge while I supported him with my shoulder. When we paused, he sat down and we had to force him back up. I tried to tell him to walk backwards, but it was hopeless. He was basically an uncooperative, semi-limp tandem rappeller. At the edge he sat down on the system and I started working down the face; one hand on the prussic and the other holding Patrick vertical. It was dark so I don't think he realized how high we were, which was a good thing because I was nervous he might freak out. He didn't, and we quickly worked down the rockface. He dragged his feet across the wall on the way down, but otherwise I was able to manhandle the harness and mostly hold him upright off the rock. At the bottom, I unclipped and a large team loaded him into the litter. We hit the trail and 10-15 minutes later he was re-united with his mother. This whole time he only said one word to us, "water", but when he saw his mother he started to talk in more complete sentences. It was stunning. Once in the ambulance Patrick finally got a full medical assessment and I got my jacket back.

Unfortunately, the father wasn't located until the following morning. Apparently he fell 90 ft and was killed. I can only imagine seeing his father fall and then spending a cold dark night in the wilderness would have been traumatic for Patrick, even if he didn't fully understand what was happening. I'm just happy that I could help him get back to his mother.

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