Tramway GM rescued after falling down wet mountain

Tumble appears to have come from slip during maintenance

Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Rescue crews brought the injured but conscious general manager of the Mount Roberts Tramway off the mountain Monday afternoon after he apparently slipped while working on the line supplying water to the top.

Tram employee Jim Duncan identified the victim as George Reifenstein.

About 15 people worked to bring him down in a steady rain.

Reifenstein moved his arms as crews loaded him into the ambulance to Bartlett Regional Hospital shortly after 5 p.m. Information about the extent of his injuries was not immediately available.

Capital City Fire and Rescue Capt. Lynn Ridle said the victim called on a cell phone shortly after noon to say he was hurt.

At the tram's offices on South Franklin Street, a sign at the door said the tram was out of service as of noon. Ridle said the tram was closed for maintenance Monday after high winds had shut it down Sunday.

Most of the people involved in the operation were volunteers. The department's Rope Rescue Team and Juneau Mountain Rescue assisted.

Charlie Blattner, who supervises emergency medical services training for the fire department, said the fall appeared to be the result of an accidental slip during maintenance work on the water line. He said he believed a tree had fallen on the line.

"There was a lot of moisture," he said. Rescuers retrieving him on a litter dealt with a slope of about 30 to 45 degrees, he said.

"It took us a half hour to 45 minutes to get up there," Blattner said. Without identifying Reifenstein, he said the victim was about 1,000 to 1,500 feet up the mountain. Tram operations at the top are at about 2,800 feet.

"We've learned that you don't go up half-prepared," Ridle said.

About five people got to the patient to stabilize him before the rescue crew got to the scene to begin bringing him down, Blattner said.

Although it took a good part of the afternoon to bring the patient down, once rescuers set up the litter, everything went smoothly.

To bring Reifenstein down, they used a system with lines supporting the litter, bringing it down a small bit at a time.

"They did a pretty good job," Blattner said. "They're used to working in a cleaner environment."

After it was over, Juneau Mountain Rescue team member Steve Handy looked at his muddy hands and said he would be cleaning out the devil's club for awhile.

"Things rarely happen in good weather," he said.

As one of the volunteers, he said he appreciated that Juneau employers let their workers off to take part in rescues.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at

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