Helicopter plucks lost hikers off Mount Juneau

Four locals involved in dangerous rescue

Posted: Friday, August 04, 2000

With mist, crumbling shale and fast-fading daylight conspiring to keep them stranded, two out-of-state hikers were rescued from the steep face of Mount Juneau Thursday night.

After becoming disoriented and exhausted from climbing Wednesday and Thursday, Michael Hetzel and Terrance Mulligan called the Juneau Police Department on their cell phone about 8 p.m.

``We had 15 minutes of daylight and we pulled it off. It all came together because we had the right people doing the right things at the right time,'' said Sgt. Will Ellis, commander of the Juneau detachment of the Alaska State Troopers.

The rescuers were Ellis, helicopter pilot Gil Howell of TEMSCO Helicopters, Steve Lewis of the Juneau Mountain Rescue team and Bruce Bowler of the canine rescue team SEADOGS.

``Without these three people, we could not have pulled it off,'' Ellis said.

Mulligan, 30, of Yonkers, N.Y., and Hetzel, 30, of Saint Claire Shores, Mich., began their adventure Wednesday when they hiked to Granite Pass and camped overnight near Granite Creek. Thursday they hiked 10 hours to the summit of Mount Juneau, Ellis said.

After beginning their descent the pair became disoriented, followed some sheep trails and lost their bearings about 5:30 p.m. They descended several steep creek beds on the precipitous southwest side of Mount Juneau before encountering cliffs they could not descend. Stranded in a rock crevice with an icy waterfall roaring past 10 feet to one side, they called the police.

At that point, the men couldn't go up or down, Ellis said. They were stuck.

``Timing became a real important factor as we lost daylight,'' Ellis said. ``Gil had the foresight to remove the side door (of the helicopter). Bruce established and secured a landing zone near the head of Perseverance Trail. Steve pinpointed their position on the mountain where they were signaling with a flashlight.''

The helicopter flew up about 9:15 and everyone was safely back at TEMSCO at 9:50 ``when it was pitch black,'' Ellis said.

The helicopter sidled up to a ledge about 60 feet below the men, a ledge the size of a 4-by-4-foot bridge table, ``just enough to get one of the skids in. I jumped off. Rotors were coming close to the incline.''

Ellis escorted each man in turn to the tiny ledge. By the time Howell was swooping in for the second man, mist was starting to collect on his windshield, obscuring his view.

Mulligan was taken off at 9:26, followed by Hetzel at 9:35, and Ellis at 9:45. ``It was brilliant, brilliant flying,'' Ellis said.

Ellis said that Hetzel and Mulligan did the right thing in calling for assistance. ``They were physically and psychologically exhausted. It was slippery and wet. I myself was very happy to be off that mountain,'' he said.

``Sgt. Ellis came back a little bit lighter in weight and lighter in color,'' Bowler said this morning. ``We put him underneath those guys to catch them, but, when he looked over his right shoulder, he wondered who was going to catch him. It was rather harrowing.''

Additional members of Juneau Mountain Rescue waited on Basin Road during the rescue.

Hetzel is an analyst with Blue Cross. Mulligan is an emergency room physician. They planned to try to retrieve their gear at their campsite on Granite Creek today and could not be reached for comment.

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