The Crestone Eagle • July, 2021

Hiker falls to his death near Crestone Peak, leading to 3-day search & rescue operation

by Christina Lakish

On the morning of Saturday, June 19, 2021, Saguache County Search and Rescue (SAR) received notification of a hiker, a 29-year-old male, who fell on the Pico Asida from an extreme height (approximately 1600’). Operations to locate the subject commenced that afternoon.

Flight For Life “Lifeguard 4” began air search operations and Baca Grande Fire personnel established a landing zone and provided safety with CAFS 1 and Tender 1 apparati. Air search operations continued until inclement weather conditions forced Lifeguard 4 to return to base. Baca Fire personnel maintained LZ (Landing Zone) operations and safety throughout the entirety of the SAR incident.

Three ground search and rescue crews with Saguache County SAR, as well as other mutual aid search and rescue agencies, left the trailhead at approximately 1 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, June 20, to begin a ground search for the subject.

Air search operations began early Sunday morning, and lifted fresh ground search personnel to an upper LZ as close to the assumed location of the subject as the helicopter could land. Mid-morning Lifeguard 4 experienced maintenance complications with the helicopter and was forced to return to base.

Search efforts for the subject were made difficult by high temperatures, even at higher elevations. Increased temperatures reduce the lift for the helicopter and more fuel is required to conduct high altitude flights in these conditions. Also, the subject was reportedly wearing gray clothing and fell among gray rocks, making the subject very difficult to spot from the air.

After SAR operations incident commander requested a second aircraft, Reach Air arrived and continued searches from the air for the subject.

Ground search crews confirmed they had found the deceased subject late Sunday afternoon. SAR personnel informed SAR command that the terrain was too difficult for the skill level of any personnel currently active on the incident to lower the body to the upper helicopter LZ. An elite technical team was needed to recover the subject. The SAR command team requested the necessary technical team and made plans to send the team up early in the morning on Monday, June 21.

Reach Air was once again on scene at 7:15 on Monday morning of June 22 to assist ground crews. The technical team successfully lowered the subject’s body to the upper landing zone, and Reach Air transported the body down to the Baca Grande Ambulance Bay where the Saguache County Coroner assumed custody of the subject’s body at approximately 7pm on Monday evening.

SAR operations require good cooperation and communication between multiple agencies including fire, EMS, aviation, and SAR teams. It is through this cooperation that, despite multiple complications in search efforts, this 3-day SAR operation concluded successfully with no further casualties or injuries.