A Dawson City cross-country skier was saved from near-certain death Monday after she tumbled about 20 metres over an embankment.
Rescuers from around Dawson worked together in the dark that evening to save her life. She was seriously injured but is now recovering in hospital and is expected to be OK.
Search-and-rescue volunteers were called at approximately 5:45 p.m. after the skier, who hasn’t been identified, hadn’t returned home in time for an appointment.
She’d gone out around 3:30 or 4 p.m. to ski on a trail just east of Moose Mountain Ski Hill, part-way up the Midnight Sun Dome Road, said John (Mitch) Mitchell, with Yukon Search and Rescue.
Trained search-and-rescue volunteers, RCMP, paramedics and the Dawson City Fire Department, along with a local contractor, all contributed to the happy ending.
Searchers in the area spotted the woman’s tracks and, using snowmobiles, were able to follow them to the edge of the embankment.
She had turned off the trail and gone into an unbroken area before tumbling 18 to 24 metres and ending up on the Klondike River, Mitchell said.
The last six metres of the fall would have been straight down.
For privacy reasons, Mitchell isn’t talking about the woman’s injuries other than to say she was badly hurt. He estimates that within an hour of getting the call rescuers were able to call down to her.
Getting to her was a more difficult feat.
She had managed to pick herself up after falling and walk a couple hundred metres along the river to try and get to safety, he said.
“Somehow, with her injuries she had managed to work her way down along the edge of the river without going through the ice or falling into the water.”
Eventually she fell down and couldn’t get enough traction on the ice to stand back up again, he said.
She was found lying on the north side of the Klondike River near Thomas Gulch, just outside of Dawson City, on a frozen dredge pond.
Rescuers decided the best way to reach her was to split up. Half would try to carefully make their way in the dark across the river from the other side. The others repelled down the side of the embankment.
The volunteers had just been trained in how to do these rope rescues last winter, Mitchell said.
Everyone was wearing headlamps to see, Mitchell said. The Dawson City Fire Department also brought in a truck with lights of its own.
The rescuers who first spotted the woman got to the top of the embankment using snowmobiles. The trip would have been more difficult for the vehicles carrying the rescue equipment if it were not for local contractor, Gerry Grenon, who cleared a road and a flat staging area with his plow so that emergency vehicles and rescuers could get closer to the scene.
Both rescue teams – the one from the river and the one from above – reached the woman at about the same time, Mitchell said.
She was lightly dressed for an afternoon of skiing. By the time rescuers got to her, she had stopped shivering – a dangerous sign for anyone suffering from hypothermia, Mitchell said.
“She wouldn’t have made it through the night. I think we’re talking hours here.”
But rescuers were able to start a fire and bundle the woman up to keep her warm.
They were able to find a route to safety from the ground, meaning she didn’t have to be hoisted up by rope.
“That’s pretty challenging… The tailing piles are deceptively difficult to move through. You’re running over this marble sort of, with water coming up in the depressions and thin ice and brush and stuff like that,” Mitchell said.
“It’s not a walk in the park by any means.”
Within 90 minutes of getting to her, the woman was in the back of an ambulance Mitchell said.
All the rescue operation’s moving parts had worked together and she was safe.
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