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State Alert & Warning Center coordinates rescue in Chelan County

Alert & Warning Center: Making a Difference

Quick thinking from a state Emergency Operations Officer helped connect the dots and led to a rapidly coordinated helicopter rescue of an injured hiker in Chelan County the night of Sunday, June 14.

Jennifer Davey was working the late shift in the state Alert & Warning Center at Camp Murray when a personal locator beacon suddenly went off at about 9 p.m., June 14. This kind of satellite tracking beacon had a text message capability. The hikers sent messages saying they had come across a male climber who had fallen and suffered a head and leg injury, according to a press release from the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office.

“The climber would have unlikely survived the night outdoors due to his extensive injures,” according to Chris Utzinger, the Response Section Manager of the state Emergency Operations Center, citing reports made to him after the incident by the Chelan Sheriff’s Office.

Utzinger says the beacon had a signal that connected with a private dispatch center, which notified the local dispatch office of 911. Because air support was needed, the local dispatch office contacted the Alert & Warning Center to try to find the necessary help.

Utzinger said that, typically, a helicopter from King or Snohomish counties would have been used in the rescue mission. But, in this case, the helicopters weren’t available. They left helicopters with either the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Coast Guard as backups. Davey was able to coordinate with the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center to get a helicopter deployed out of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

A 41-year-old Seattle man had apparently injured himself near the “Colchuck Balanced Rock” climbing area well above the north side of Colchuck Lake, located west of Leavenworth in the North Cascade Mountains. Coordinates showed the injured man was at the 7,300-foot level and hikers in the area could not reach his location, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

As a ground team of Sheriff’s Office volunteers and Chelan County Mountain Rescue members moved in, a hoist capable helicopter was requested, particularly since the ground team was some three hours away from Colchuck Lake.

At about 1 a.m., the helicopter from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island was able to navigate the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and get the 41-year-old hoisted out of the area. There had been fears that he had suffered a serious head injury and leg injury in the fall and may have also broken ribs and suffered a collapsed lung. 

The Wenatchee World reported that a night later after treatment, the man was in satisfactory condition at Harborview Medical Center, noting his home town is Seattle.

A press release from the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office says it’s not known what caused the man to fall.

The Alert & Warning Center in the state Emergency Operations Center at Camp Murray has 10 personnel on rotating shifts working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The team is responsible not just for coordinating air rescues, but for issuing AMBER Alerts and monitoring emergencies throughout the state. Last year, the Alert & Warning Center was utilized more than 4,800 times.