A Hair-Raising Rescue

Rescue Me Director, Melanie Wood, describes it as “some of the most gut-wrenching” video footage she has ever seen.

In it an experienced 27-year-old climber is moaning in agony, hanging from a rope on a minute ledge on Gooseberry, a cliff in Banff National Park. The ground is a vertical drop 80 metres below. He doesn’t know it yet, but he has broken his back in two places. His friends are holding his weight on the ropes, and keeping themselves on the rock.  They have called for help and thankfully they can see the helicopter.

A 1957 rescue by Parks Canada.

The rescue team that approaches is part of Canada’s National Park’s Visitor Safety Specialist team.  You just have to watch this rescue unfold to see why they have earned the reputation of being some of the best mountain rescue specialists in the world.

Watch Doc Zone's Rescue Me airing in January to see the end of a truly hair-raising situation. We learned that the helicopter maneuvering in a rescue like this is so demanding, there are only ten qualified helicopter pilots in the country licensed to attempt it. With their rotors sometimes only four feet from the edge of the cliff and often heavy, gusting winds, the job of the mountain rescue pilot is not one that appeals to just anybody.

The ability to mountaineer, ski, predict avalanches and apply advanced life-saving skills in some of the most treacherous conditions anywhere on the planet is all in a day’s work.  They never want to see again anything like the two accidents in the mid-1950s that spurred Parks Canada to develop its own mountain rescue capabilities. An all female team from Mexico and a group of American boy scouts were killed in Banff National Park resulting in 11 deaths. “That just wouldn’t happen now, “ says Marc Ledwidge, a veteran Visitor Safety Specialist. “We know every inch of our parks and pride ourselves on knowing exactly how to get to people who need us.”

Join us for Rescue Me in January on Doc Zone.

Also on CBC