Right Place, Right Time

The victim in LACoFDs rescue was trapped in her car for almost two hours before she managed to crawl out and call for help.
The victim in LACoFDs rescue was trapped in her car for almost two hours before she managed to crawl out and call for help.

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On Dec. 14, 2011, the Los Angeles County Fire Departments (LACoFDs) Copter 16 a Sikorsky S-70 Firehawk was en route to base in Malibu, Calif., its crew having just completed rescue hoist training, when an emergency call came across the dispatch radio. The dispatcher was asking ground crews to respond to a traffic accident in Malibu Canyon, which immediately grabbed the attention of Copter 16 pilot Adam Henry and firefighter/paramedic Brad Idol. Being familiar with the canyons accident history and knowing their teams services might be needed, they decided they should go check it out.
Upon arrival, Copter 16s crewmembers could see emergency ground personnel driving slowly along the canyon road, searching for the accident site. During their own first sweep of the area, the helicopter crew spotted a small reflection in the grass far below the roadway, leading Henry to place the aircraft overhead so they could size up the situation visually. 
The crew soon realized what they had first caught a glimpse of was a crashed vehicle, about 150 feet down the steep canyon slope. They next spotted an individual lying outside the vehicle. Unfortunately, they also realized this was not an ideal rescue scene: numerous powerlines ran along the roadway, and there was a large tree directly next to the accident vehicle. 
Nevertheless, the flight crew calmly determined an appropriate plan of action and began preparing the cabin for the rescue. The cabin crewmembers then clipped themselves into their harnesses, prepared their rescue gear and went through their safety checklist together.
At the time, they did not know whether the individual they had spotted had been thrown from the vehicle or had crawled out. They also did not know whether there were multiple victims or just one. Consequently, they prepared for each contingency. (As it turned out, there was only a single victim: a 23-year-old female who had driven off the road and become stuck in the wreckage of her vehicle for almost two hours before finally managing to crawl out and call for help on her cell phone. The accident had otherwise gone unnoticed, so she was very fortunate to have had cell reception in that area of the deep canyon.)
Once the crew was ready, Henry placed the aircraft in position for a hoist rescue. Firefighter/paramedic Michael Nelson was hoisted down to the victim and was then soon joined by two additional ground firefighters, who had made their way down the difficult descent from the roadway above the accident site. 
As Nelson administered medical attention and prepped the patient for extraction, Copter 16 repositioned away from the scene to minimize the extreme downwash of the Firehawk. While waiting to be called back for the extraction, the crew stayed alert for additional air traffic: it is common to have several electronic-news-gathering helicopters on scene of an accident, shooting breaking news footage. In this case, only an L.A. County Sheriffs Department helicopter was spotted nearby, and it was not a factor.

Returning for the extraction, Idol worked the rescue hoist and conned Henry into position. Because of the steep terrain and obstacles, it was necessary to deliver the rescue hook directly into Nelsons hands something Idol and Henry managed through constant communication. Meanwhile, Henry also kept his attention on the powerlines and surrounding terrain, ensuring the aircraft stayed safely away from any danger, while still being where it needed to be for the rescue. The tight positioning of the aircraft near the powerlines, and the location of the rescue scene almost directly beneath a large tree, emphasized the importance of common terminology, excellent crew communication and good training, which made this rescue pretty much a non-event.
As impressive as the rescue was especially from this authors point of view the entire process, from visually locating the accident to delivering the patient to UCLA Medical Center, took only about 45 minutes. Its a testament to the professionalism and expertise of LACoFD Air Operations Section crews that they can make a lifesaving mission seem almost routine.  

LA County Fire “Air Ops” Rescue from Sheldon Cohen on Vimeo.

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