The rescue of a 24-year-old who was struck by a boulder and fell down a mountainside near Marsh Lake took about 20 hours, despite a concerted response from RCMP, search and rescue, firefighters and paramedics.
Sophie Jessome was soil sampling and prospecting for gold Saturday with two others near Mount Michie when rocks on the slope above her loosened.
Martin Paquette, the team leader, was about 300 metres from her.
He saw a boulder fall towards her, he said. He described it as squared and sharp, and “pretty much as big as her.”
She fell and began to roll down the hill. She rolled about 60 metres before finally coming to a stop on the steep slope, Paquette said. It happened at about 12:45 p.m.
“I just ran down the hill. When I got there, she was unconscious, she was upside down, there was blood everywhere. She had big bumps on her head. She was bleeding pretty bad from her right ear. I could see her right shoulder was broken, or at least we thought it was broken.”
Paquette began administering first aid.
“For a while I thought I was going to lose her.”
The third crew member, Jessome’s boyfriend, went to the top of the mountain in search of a radio signal to call for help.
He was eventually able to reach a NorthwesTel operator, who was able to get the message to Whitehorse.
Paquette revived Jessome, and at first she couldn’t remember anything.
The two men started a fire and concentrated on keeping her comfortable and warm while they waited. The fog was thick, rain threatened, and they worried about the rescuers being able to get to them.
The first sign of help was an RCMP plane overhead, but it wasn’t until 4:45 p.m. that a team of paramedics arrived and were able to give her some pain medication and further treatment.
A couple of hours later, a crew of five firefighters arrived to help Jessome get to a spot where a helicopter could land.
Jason Wolsky, a captain with the Whitehorse Fire Department, said they got the call around 4:20 p.m. They began the rescue just after 7 p.m.
They strapped Jessome to a spinal board and stretcher, and used ropes to anchor her and the team to the mountain while they slowly walked and lowered her down the side.
They had to reset the anchors on their 120-metre-long ropes five times. In total, they moved her about 700 metres down the slope, Wolsky said.
“It took quite a while because of the resets we had to do and the terrain on the mountain we were dealing with. It was a lot of shale and a lot of loose rock, so we had to proceed with a lot of caution.”
When they got to the bottom it was about 10 p.m., and it was too dark for the helicopter to land.
Jessome’s boyfriend, two search and rescue team members and one of the two paramedics had left with the last helicopter out.
The plan was to carry Jessome down a trail at the bottom of the valley and out to where the exploration crew had left an Argo ATV. From there they could get back to their vehicle and get her to the hospital.
Paquette knew how rough the trail was, and insisted that it would be better to wait until a helicopter could come in the morning.
“I thought we were just going to hurt her more, actually. The trail was really bad.”
In the end, Paquette took two firefighters with him to the Argo while three firefighters and the paramedic stayed with Jessome.
They left because they could not get a radio signal to tell someone they had changed plans and would need a helicopter in the morning.
Although the Argo was only about 300 metres away, it took the three of them an hour and a half to get to it.
“We got stuck in the worst swamp. We were like, swimming. It was pretty dangerous, actually.”
It was about 2 a.m. when they made it back to the ATV.
The morning helicopter rescue was delayed by bad weather, but they were finally able to get Jessome out around 8:30 a.m.
In the hospital, she received stitches on her ear and head, and was treated for a separated shoulder.
She stayed in the hospital Sunday night, and returned home Monday evening.
She is doing fine, said Paquette, who is also her roommate.
All of the rescuers did an incredible job, and were exhausted by the end of it, said Paquette.
Jessome, too, showed strength and bravery through the whole ordeal.
“Everybody was saying that she was a really tough girl.”
Still, Paquette wonders why it took almost a day to get her out.
“She stayed out there way too long. It could have been worse, but if her neck was broken or something really bad, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have made it.”
If the helicopter pilot had a more advanced rating, he could have lifted Jessome out from the mountainside on a sling, Paquette said. That would have saved time, and saved Jessome the rough ride down the mountain.
Still, he is grateful that everyone is OK.
“Knowing that, at the beginning, we really thought we were going to lose her for a while, it’s a really good end to that story.”
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at