Hiker rescued after a long night

Posted: Friday, January 07, 2011

It was a long night for a lone, injured hiker on Mt. Ripinsky, but one that led to a happy ending the next day.

Michael Penn/Juneau Empire / Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire / Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Keith Hutchins, a 40-year-old Haines resident, had gone solo hiking on the nearby mountain Wednesday and was above 1,600 feet when he fell into a ravine, resulting in back pain and possible injuries. Rescue teams were unable to get to him that day so he spent the night on the mountain before help arrived Thursday morning.

He was brought into Juneau for treatment at Bartlett Regional Hospital shortly after noon on Thursday following a coordinated effort between the U.S. Coast Guard, Alaska State Troopers and Juneau Mountain Rescue.

“We’re just very grateful to be able to locate Keith Hutchins, hoist him, bring back to Juneau safely, and that was just a great coordinated effort with the State Troopers and Juneau Mountain Rescue,” said Coast Guard Spokesman Petty Officer 3rd Class Walter Shinn. “It was a good ending to a coordinated rescue effort.”

The State Troopers reported that Hutchins’ fall happened after he became disoriented on his descent. The fall caused him severe pain, a back injury and inability to move his legs.

Hutchins was able to call the State Troopers on his cell phone after 2 p.m. Wednesday, prompting an immediate rescue attempt. The troopers dispatched a ground search team. The searchers were able to track Hutchins’ exact location through his cell phone.

Shinn said a Jayhawk rescue helicopter was also launched and arrived at the scene at 5 p.m. However, weather conditions and low visibility prevented it from reaching the stranded hiker. Hutchins was also lying in snow beneath a tree, hindering his visibility from the air.

On the ground, a four-member team responded to the base of the cliff and established voice contact. They were only a few hundred feet away, but the hazardous terrain prevented them from reaching him that night.

Troopers reported the team remained on the mountain overnight and maintained contact with Hutchins.

Shinn said the helicopter launched again at 6 a.m. Thursday, this time with four members of Juneau Mountain Rescue on board. That team joined the others on the ground just over an hour later.

Hutchins was hoisted off the mountain at 11 a.m. and checked over immediately in Haines.

From there, he was taken to Juneau at 12:15 p.m., when Capital City Fire and Rescue transported him to the hospital.

“The Coast Guard was very instrumental in this as well as a local rescue crew,” said Alaska State Troopers spokesperson Megan Peters. “Certainly in any type of rescue, if there’s help available from other organizations, we use them. In Alaska you have to work together and share resources, otherwise the outcome would be very different.”

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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