Unity College Staff Member Saves a Life in Baxter State Park, Credits Skill of Maine Search and Rescue
Unity, Maine – July, 2009 – It was a busy weekend for Ryan Howes ’07, Experiential Programs Assistant at Unity College. In his spare time Howes serves as a member of the Lincoln Search and Rescue, a high angle rescue squad in Lincoln, Maine.
Howes and three Unity College students pursuing summer internships participated in one of the most physically demanding and time consuming wilderness high angle Maine rescue operations to take place in recent memory. The operation lasted nearly 30 hours and involved all five Maine-based high angle rescue squads, with additional support from park rangers, forest rangers, and game wardens.
On the evening of Friday, July 17, Howes and other members of the squad were called to Baxter State Park to be briefed by Ranger Rob Tice on a young female on Hamlin Ridge Trail who had a possible broken left leg. The squad departed for the rescue at 4 a.m. on Saturday along with members of Dirigo, Wilderness and Mt. Desert Island (MDI) Search and Rescue, and members of the Baxter State Park Trail Crew, which included three Unity College students who work on the trail crew. The students are Andy Gagnon ’11, Mike Champagne ’12, and Melanie Renell ’12. They were joined on the scene by members of the Mahoosuc Search and Rescue of Bethel, Maine, game wardens, park rangers, and forest rangers.
After the briefing while on route to the scene, Howes and his fellow rescuers were not only challenged by the bad weather, but news that a second victim had been reported.
“We heard that there was a second victim and as we were approaching victim number one, ahead, nearly at the top of the ridge, we saw one of the BSP Rangers assisting a second victim,” said Howes. “Because victim number one was in a secure location and feeling comfortable, I along with two members of Wilderness Search and Rescue took over for the ranger and helped victim number two.”
The rescuers gave the second victim food, water and warm clothing. Two search and rescue volunteers assisted the second victim from the mountain, who was able to walk despite suffering from mild hypothermia and bruising.
The rest of the 18 rescuers converged on the first victim, and packed her into a litter for transport down the mountain, noted Howes.
“This turned out to be one of the most physically demanding transports that I have ever been involved in,” said Howes.
The hike to get to the victims was 4.6 miles beginning at Roaring Brook Ranger Station and proceeding up the Chimney Pond Trail to Hamlin Ridge.
The rescuers carried the victim caterpillar style from the scene just below Hamlin Peak, 4,751 feet above sea level, two miles to Chimney Pond Ranger Cabin. The female victim was air lifted to a hospital in Millinocket by a United States Army Reserve Helicopter the following morning. The poor weather would not allow the helicopter to attempt a rescue on the ridge.
“It was about 50 degrees with 30 to 40 miles-per-hour winds on Hamlin Ridge,” said Howes. “We got to the victim at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, and started carrying her down the ridge at 10 a.m. We arrived at the ranger’s cabin at 7:30 p.m.”
“Everyone on the rescue was wet due to the relentless, wind driven rain,” Howes explained. “It rained an inch that day. We had to keep moving the entire time in order to stay warn, or we could have become victims of hypothermia. Toward the end of this experience park rangers arrived on the trail with 70 sandwiches that they had purchased from a downtown Millinocket store, and cookies that a ranger baked.”
The lesson that Howes would like to convey is not only that Maine is blessed with highly trained and dedicated rescuers, but that hikers must be prepared for the challenges that they will face.
Howes noted that the two victims were ill-prepared for the weather and inexperienced as hikers.
“I personally want to give thanks to all of the rescuers who showed up and put their lives on the line to save other individuals,” said Howes. “The level of camaraderie and teamwork was outstanding. That we were able to get the victim in the litter off the mountain before dark given the adverse weather conditions and trail conditions is a highly commendable act. This demonstrates the skill level of Maine search and rescue personnel, park personnel, and their ability to organize in such a short period of time.”
“We really had it down,” noted Howes. “We had EMT’s, Wilderness First Responders, and a physician who is a member of the Lincoln Search and Rescue Team all on the scene.”
Unity College is a small private college in rural Maine that provides dedicated, engaged students with a liberal arts education which emphasizes the environment and natural resources. Unity College graduates are prepared to be environmental stewards, effective leaders, and responsible citizens through active learning experiences within a supportive community.