Severe weather trapped Seattle hiker in Isolation Lake, saved by Army

Jan 10, 2024, 12:37 PM

seattle hiker isolation lake...

Flight medics assigned to U.S. Army Air Ambulance Detachment (USAAAD) conducts hoist training at Yakima Training Center. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army)

(Photo courtesy of U.S. Army)

A male hiker from Seattle, trapped and suffering from severe cold while hiking near Isolation Lake, was rescued by the U.S. Army after his inReach device released an SOS message that was transmitted as he was suffering from life-threatening conditions.

The SOS message was received at approximately 9:30 p.m. Jan. 5 by RiverCom Dispatch and the Washington State Department of Emergency Management. According to Garmin Support, the inReach satellite communicator can trigger a distress signal, receive delivery confirmation that help is on the way, and maintain two-way text conversations with the Garmin Response center.

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Chelan County Sheriff Mike Morrison, the Chelan County Mountain Rescue volunteer group and the Sheriff’s Office’s search and rescue coordinators took over the search. However, the responding teams were not able to deploy to the hiker due to avalanche risk in the Aasgard pass area on Jan. 5, according to the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office.

Instead, they requested the help of the U.S. Army Air Ambulance Detachment, nicknamed the “Yakima Dustoff.” Soldiers in this unit — the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade — are responsible for providing rescue coverage in south-central Washington’s remote wilderness areas.

Additionally, the unit provides medical evacuation coverage for thousands of soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) training at YTC each year or for service members training at Yakima Training Center each year. The unit is based out of Yakima Training Center in Central Washington.

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“Yakima Dustoff takes about five missions a year for [Chelan County] but that number is increasing,” Jason Reinfeld, Sergeant for Emergency Management for Chelan County Sherriff’s Office, told MyNorthwest.

“Their proximity to this portion of the county makes them a favorable option. We do receive hoist-capable helicopter assistance from several other entities as well though,” Reinfeld continued. “If those entities don’t accept the mission, they forward the request to the military. We typically get a response from NAS Whidbey Island, Yakima, JBLM, or Fairchild. Conditions that would cause the military not to accept would be not meeting their criteria, weather, crew availability or other factors.”

According to the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office, the Yakima Dustoff unit was deployed to the area late Jan. 5 but was unable to reach the hiker due to weather and was forced to turn around. The following day, the unit was turned out two more times due to dangerous weather before finally locating the hiker at approximately 4:50 p.m.

The hiker, 36, was near the base of Dragontail Peak when he was found. The helicopter flew to the hiker and hoisted him out. He was then transported to Yakima Memorial Hospital in stable condition.

“The hiker was hypothermic and in stable condition when he was located,” Reinfeld said. “He may have had some cold-related injuries to his feet, but since he was transported to Yakima, I do not have good details on the extent.”

Weather in the Dragontail Peak area was forecasted to be well below zero during the night of Jan. 6.

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“It is important to remember weather conditions can change rapidly in the mountains during the winter and never to hike alone into remote areas,” Chelan County Sheriff’s Office stated. “Although there are skilled search and rescue personnel able to respond, rescuers may be prevented from reaching you due to weather conditions.”

Chelan County Sheriff’s Office handles approximately 80 search-and-rescued calls throughout the year.

“Last year, we had approximately 30 in the vicinity of this search,” Reinfeld said. “The Enchantments/Colchuck Lake area keeps us busy.”

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Severe weather trapped Seattle hiker in Isolation Lake, saved by Army