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Last week, our readers saw and read about a dramatic rescue of a trapped BASE jumper who suffered a parachute malfunction. Rather than plummeting to the ground 600 feet below, the 27-year-old Prescott man crash-landed on a rock face, suffering injuries upon impact.

On Monday, Nov. 11, personnel from SFD were joined by Coconino County Search and Rescue and the Arizona Department of Public Safety to rescue a man who had BASE jumped from the top of Lee Mountain, near the Bell Rock Pathway. The 27-year-old man, whose name was not released, was one of three BASE jumpers from Prescott. The man’s chute malfunctioned, but he managed to steer into the cliff before falling an additional 15 to 20 feet.We ran a large annotated photo package of the rescue efforts in our edition on Friday, Nov. 15, so our readers could grasp the technical skill required to rescue the stranded man and take him to a hospital.

During the 10-hour rescue, crews from the Sedona Fire District and Coconino County Search and Rescue rapelled down the rock face, prepared the victim and lowered him 300 feet to the ground below.

Among the details of the rescue, SFD Battalion Chief Jayson Coil included the following: “We had to wait 90 minutes for [Arizona Department of Public Safety] Ranger 52 out of Tucson because not all of the DPS Ranger Aircraft are in service due to budget cuts at the state level. This is a resource critical to effecting these types of rescues.”

Discussing the rescue in the newsroom as we neared deadline and after we went to press, we began to wonder why the DPS helicopter had to come all the way from Tucson when there is a base of private helicopters stationed nearby at the top of Airport Mesa, all of which are hired daily to fly people around the red rocks.

Managing Editor Christopher Fox GrahamThe rescue in question did not require James Bond-style death-defying rapelling stunts from the landing gear — crews were moved from a landing zone to the top of Lee Mountain and later retrieved after the victim was safely rescued — five flights in total.

The fuel cost from Tucson to Sedona airspace was effectively money wasted, while the victim had to wait on the rock face with broken bones wondering when, or if, the helicopter was ever going to arrive.

Surely DPS, Yavapai County, Coconino County or the Sedona Fire District could work out an agreement with private helicopter tour companies to use their equipment during an emergency and reimburse them for the fair cost of fuel and the pilot’s wage to speed up a rescue. DPS’ costs for helicopters wouldn’t be so high if the agency could hire out private companies on an as-needed basis rather than pay its pilots for a scenic cross-state tour before getting down to work.

Local pilots are intimately acquainted with how to fly near mastiffs and cope with the updrafts and other wind conditions encountered near our sheer cliffs.

Liability and insurance could also be calculated into an agreement. Surely DPS could negotiate an arrangement for liability should the helicopter be damaged or crew injured during a rescue, just as it does for its own pilots.

Had the BASE jumper suffered internal injuries, the 90-minute wait could have turned a dramatic rescue effort into a solemn body recovery operation … and still cost taxpayers thousands.

Christopher Fox Graham

Managing Editor












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