Sitka: Good communication, teamwork save hunters

Posted: Sunday, August 11, 2002

The rescuers in a mission to aid two hunters stranded near the top of Bear Mountain say they brought more than a couple of grateful people down from the mountainside.

At a debriefing meeting last Monday, Sitka Volunteer Fire Department Search and Rescue team members agreed they gained valuable experience and some tips for their next rescue, rescue squad Captain Don Kluting said.

"We've got some folks that got some really good experience," he said. The nighttime rappel down a sheer mountainside of crumbling rock to rescue hunters Iain Thompson, 27, and Ian Kott, 28, gave the team something that training scenarios can't provide, Kluting said.

"To throw up bitter realism for everyone involved is a good thing," he said.

The four-person team was dropped off by helicopter near the summit of Bear Mountain on the night of Friday, Aug. 2, and spent some eight hours working its way down to the hunters. The team reached the hunters at 3:30 a.m.

The group then descended the rest of the mountain over the next 12 hours on a route requiring more rappelling down the mountain's steep face. The hunters called on a cell phone for help after they had climbed to a point where they couldn't go up or down. They were unharmed and able to assist themselves in the descent after the rescuers arrived with ropes and climbing equipment.

Kluting said one of the highlights of the rescue was the quality of the teamwork among members of the rescue party.

"All the communication all the way around was very, very good," he said.

Working with the four rescuers on the mountain were members of the Coast Guard in the helicopter, and spotter Gerald Gangle, who helped direct the climbers by radio from his position on Blue Lake Road.

From about one-and-a-half miles away he used an old military aiming scope to pick out a route the rescuers could take down the mountain. After darkness fell he was able to keep sending them advice about the terrain by watching them with a night-vision scope.

The ground crew carried water up to the dehydrated descending party near the end of its 24-hour trek, Kluting said.

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