Gallatin County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue teams from Big Sky and Bozeman were mobilized for a seriously injured paraglider who suffered a rough and unexpected landing. PHOTO COURTESY GALLATIN COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

Paraglider in peril

Gallatin County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue mobilized in Big Sky

A paraglider in Big Sky recently had a rough scrape when his flight suddenly and unexpectedly ended. His landing left him with a broken pelvis. The injury was “an 11 on a scale of one to 10,” Gallatin County Sheriff ’s Search and Rescue (SAR) Commander Scott Secor explained.

Gallatin County Sheriff ’s Office (GCSO) Sergeant Dan Haydon said it is fortunate the 25-year-old man had his cell phone, had signal and was able to call out.

“Where he landed was a very, very difficult spot to see. We actually utilized a drone with live-feed video to try to get information on where he was. Even with that drone in the air it was nearly impossible for us to find him,” Haydon said, and explained the man’s cell phone gave out GPS coordinates, which helped rescuers locate him on a steep, rocky mountainside just north of the Big Sky Meadow Village. “He would not have been able to get himself out, in addition to that traumatic injury he was also dealing with the cold, which was compounding it.”

SAR rescuers could not determine if his injury was spinal, back or pelvis in the initial assessment in the field.

“Because of the nature of that injury and the risks we didn’t want to transport him down. We decided to hook him up and short-haul him out and to the fire station and to the life flight back to Bozeman,” Secor said. “Anytime you fly and you have somebody hanging from a rope, it’s dangerous, but those guys are really good pilots.”

A coordinated effort had been mobilized, the seriousness of many injuries means that minutes matter and contingency plans have to be in place. While the heli-team was preparing, volunteers were on the ground hiking to him to provide care, the alpine team was on-the-ready to possibly bring him down with ropes and anchors and HAM radio operators were using their technical skills to zero-in on a location.

“We had a dozen of our local (Big Sky) volunteers that know the area, know the sport and know where people get into trouble, then we had all of our Bozeman volunteers,” Haydon said.

Something Secor noted was that although the Big Sky and Bozeman SAR teams do not often get to train together, their work was seamless.

“Everything just fell into place,” he said of the volunteers’ work to help the injured man.

It was the best outcome of a bad scenario. Secor said he is consistently blown away by SAR volunteers’ efforts. Haydon agreed, stating that every time SAR volunteers show up to save lives “it just fills my heart with joy, they are just the coolest people.”

Secor and Haydon both have some safety tips for outdoor enthusiasts.

“If you’re not experienced in an activity, and this is anything – snowmobiling, backcountry skiing, wingsuit, if you’re not experienced you either need to tread very lightly, ease your way into it, or go with someone experienced. Unfortunately, with the conditions in Montana, if you don’t have the buddy system or the ability to self-rescue, things could end very badly very quickly,” Secor said.

Haydon noted that a person’s phone may be their means of rescue.

“Make sure you have a full battery, so if we need it, we have it as an option,” he said. “We will have searches where the person will just get a blip of data and that can be enough to point us in the right direction.”

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