Stranded hiker rescued from glacier

Rescuers say Skagway man in good condition

Posted: Thursday, March 11, 2010

A break in the weather allowed rescue teams to pluck a solo hiker off Meade Glacier Wednesday afternoon.

Courtesy Of Andy Hedden / Chilkat Guides
Courtesy Of Andy Hedden / Chilkat Guides

Kyle Dungan, 28, had been trapped in his tent on the glacier by bad weather since Sunday.

Rescuers said he was hungry but otherwise in good physical condition with high spirits after his rescue in an Army National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter based in Juneau.

Members of Juneau Mountain Rescue who helped Dungan off the glacier and into the helicopter said he was in good condition, despite having not eaten in a week.

Visibility had been low for days, with heavy snows and glacier fog.

The Haines area was under a winter storm warning Monday and Tuesday, with winds gusting to 45 miles per hour and forecasted heavy snow.

A Haines heli-ski company reported the glacier received up to 15 feet of new snow during the storm, JMR Spokesman Doug Wessen said.

"When our guys got out to assist him they were in almost waist-deep snow," Wessen said.

Dungan had been hunkered down in his tent, waiting, Wessen added, and not able to communicate with rescuers on his radio since he was higher in elevation.

Dungan was flown to Haines Wednesday and checked over by an emergency medical technician, rescuers said. He required no medical treatment.

Dungan could not be reached for comment. He was dropped alone on the glacier Feb. 20 for a hiking excursion by a Haines ski-plane pilot who was scheduled to pick him up Sunday.

He missed the pick-up, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, but was spotted about seven miles away at an elevation of about 4,300 feet.

The plane could not land in the terrain but dropped him a hand-held radio, on which he reported being tired, weak and that he had not eaten for four days, the Coast Guard said.

A Coast Guard flight crew based in Sitka tried to reach him twice each day on Monday and Tuesday in an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter but the weather was too poor, said pilot Lt. Rick Hipes.

"We just couldn't get up there, it was zero-zero visibility," Hipes said.

A break in the weather came Wednesday, and Dungan's tent was spotted from Hipes' aircraft. Instead of hoisting him off the glacier, rescuers decided the Blackhawk would land on the ice.

Hipes' crew and members of Juneau Mountain Rescue set the landing zone by tossing orange weighted streamers onto the ground so the Blackhawk pilot had a visual reference for landing.

"Imagine yourself in a complete white area, you don't know which way is up or down," Hipes said of landing on a glacier in poor weather.

Hipes praised the rescuers' team effort.

"It was a great joint effort with local community folks," he said. "Without all those guys putting in all that effort, we wouldn't have had a chance to get in there and get him."

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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