BILLINGS – A helicopter pilot carried out several daring rescues involving people injured in climbing accidents over the weekend just hours before he attended the funeral for his son, who died in a firefighting helicopter crash in Oregon last month. One person was killed and two people were injured during the climbing accidents, authorities said.
The first accident involved a man who fell about 100 feet after slipping Saturday while trying to cross an area called the Snow Bridge on the eastern route of Granite Peak, the highest mountain in the state. The man had been climbing with his brother, said Sgt. Tad Dykstra with the Park County Sheriff’s Office.
The second accident happened on the southeast face of Granite Peak, where four men from Idaho were rappelling on a slope. The large boulder they had anchored into gave way, Dykstra said.
“The boulder rolled down and possibly struck or knocked another subject off balance,” Dykstra told The Billings Gazette. One man fell 1,000 feet (300 meters) and died. Another man was injured. The victim’s name has not been released.
A helicopter from Malmstrom Air Force Base near Great Falls attempted to fly a rescue mission on Saturday, but turned back because of high winds in the area just north of Yellowstone National Park.
The wind, the difficulty of flying rescues on Granite Peak and limited helicopter availability due to a fire north of Bozeman required rescuers to wait until Sunday.
“Granite Peak has intense wind events up there,” Dykstra said. “It takes a very specialized pilot and a specialized team in order to complete the rescue.”
Mark Duffy of Bozeman flew seven short haul rescues on Sunday morning before attending the funeral of his son. Tom Duffy, 40, was killed in a helicopter crash on Aug. 24 while dropping water on a wildfire in the Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon.
“This morning, Mark showed his true commitment to rescuing those in need,” Dykstra wrote on the Park County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page on Sunday.
The man who slid from Snow Ridge was the first person rescued because his injuries were believed to be the most critical. A short haul helicopter rescue involves a rescuer on a helicopter long line who tethers themselves to another person before both are lifted out. The rescuers were with Gallatin County’s high-angle rescue team.
The injured people were flown to a nearby landing zone where they were picked up by medical helicopters and taken to area hospitals.
A member of the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team stayed overnight with the man who fell from Snow Bridge. She had been climbing with another person when they came across the incident, Dykstra said.
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