Rescue crew plucks hiker off ledge with helicopter in one of two rescues

Posted: Friday, October 03, 2003

A Juneau man was rescued Wednesday night from a 3,000-foot ledge above Snowslide Gulch and Gold Creek by a TEMSCO helicopter that hovered next to the cliff, Alaska State Troopers said.

Hiker Ken LaFavour, 45, called troopers on his cell phone at about 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, said trooper Sgt. Steve Hall. Bruce Bowler of the SEADOGS called Mitch Horton, the base manager and a pilot at TEMSCO Helicopters, who agreed to try to take LaFavour off the cliff or at least leave him supplies to stay the night.

LaFavour didn't have food or camping gear, Hall said.

"Basically, he was in a spot, getting dark, where he couldn't go down any further and his legs were cramping on him," Hall said of LaFavour. "Basically, it was go get him or let him spend the night."

Bowler guided the helicopter while talking to LaFavour by cell phone. LaFavour didn't have a flashlight, but it occurred to him that he had a camera with a flash, and he used that to signal to the helicopter when he heard it, Bowler said.

"That improvisation saved him at best from having a very uncomfortable night on the mountain," Horton said.

"He did an outstanding job flying us in, toeing the helicopter into the rock face and getting the guy extracted," Hall said of Horton. "He put part of his skid on the ledge because that's all that would fit. And we were able to load the guy into the helicopter."

Horton said LaFavour was on a rock outcropping on a 45-degree slope.

Hall said LaFavour was rescued at about 8 p.m., cold and tired but unhurt. He couldn't be reached Thursday afternoon for comment.

Later Wednesday night, at about 11, troopers received a cell phone call from two Juneau residents hiking down Thunder Mountain who were caught in dense woods in the dark, Hall said.

Professional photographer John Hermle Jr., 67, and his grandneice, Amanda Detienne, 26, walked out on their own, ending up at the Switzer Village Mobile Home Park unhurt except for scrapes, at about 1 a.m. Thursday.

They had been dropped off on top of Thunder Mountain, which overlooks the Mendenhall Valley, by helicopter on Wednesday.

"It got dark, but we had a flashlight," Hermle said. "We just missed the right branch on the trail."

The trail they were following eventually petered out in "dense forest," Hermle said. Hearing traffic, they eventually followed a creek bed downhill to Switzer.

As Hall spoke to the hikers by cell phone, Juneau police officer Barry Bunnell turned on his siren outside of Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, SEADOG searchers used whistles, and Bowler blew the horn on his rescue vehicle so the hikers could orient themselves by sound.

SEADOGS stands for Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search. Searchers, who looked in the woods for about 45 minutes, included SEADOG dog handler Kirk Radach, his son Christopher and their dog, Ki, two members of Juneau Mountain Rescue and two friends of the hikers, Bowler said.

"I like to tramp around the forest, but it was a bit more tramping than I prefer," Hermle said Thursday afternoon.

• Eric Fry can be reached at

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