Nova Scotia

Cape Split climbers saved from cliff face by rappelling rescuer

A rescuer had to scale the cliff at Cape Split overnight to help two men who were stranded on a ledge about 15 metres above the shore.

High-angle rescue team, helicopter help 2 men Saturday night

Two hikers were stuck on a ledge 15 metres above a rocky shore when they were guided to safety early Sunday morning at Cape Split, N.S., according to the leader of the team that rescued them. 

Members of three fire departments and a search and rescue team responded after two men from Truro called for help around 9 p.m. Saturday. 

"It's very crumbly rock," said Jeff Skaling, deputy chief of the Canning Volunteer Fire Department and incident commander at the rescue. "It's an actively eroding cliff face. It's a relatively treacherous spot by the cliff edge. You're over the edge of a 300 foot cliff so obviously things can happen."

Rescue after dark 

Darkness had already fallen when the rescuers arrived by all-terrain vehicle at the meadow of Cape Split, Skaling told Maritime Noon. The end of the hiking trail, which juts out to the edge of the Bay of Fundy, is seven kilometres from the parking lot.

The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax dispatched a Cormorant helicopter from CFB Greenwood and it landed in the meadow where the team was set up. 

The hikers were about 15 metres above the shore when they called for help. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

Out of concern for the stranded men's safety, the search and rescue technicians decided not to hoist them directly onto the helicopter, Skaling said. 

 "We didn't want to endanger the individuals more, either by blowing them off the cliff from the rotor wash or having rocks come down on them and injure them," he said. 

Rappelling down to shore

Instead, a high-angle rescue team made up of firefighters from New Minas, Waterville and Canning set up a system so a rescuer could rappel down the 90-metre cliff face to assist the pair.

"If the system is done right, they're in the least amount of danger," Skaling said. "The anchoring points have to be exceptionally secure."

Secured to the cliff, the rescuer brought the men rope and then helped them down to the beach.

Airlifted off the beach

The Cormorant landed on the shore and airlifted all three back to safety. 

Skaling didn't know how the two men, ages 27 and 29, got stuck, but he recommends people take adequate rope, gear and tools whenever they're planning to rappel. 

He said the men were "relatively secure" on the ledge while they waited for help. 

"They certainly had some experience. They were healthy enough they were able to stay put," he said. 

The cliffs are about 90 metres high at the headland of Cape Split. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

Don't hesitate to call

Skaling says it's important not to wait too long in a dangerous situation. 

"The longer you delay, the longer it's going to take to get the rescue done," he said. "Often people will try to get out of situations for quite a while before they realize, or come to the conclusion that they need help, but we're always of the opinion that it's easier to rescue you in the daytime than the nighttime."

He also recommends people keep a fully charged cell phone on hand and tell someone plans any time they're going hiking.   

The Department of Natural Resources advises that because the cliffs at Cape Split are eroding and unstable, people should stay away from the edge and return to the trailhead by dusk. 

With files from Maritime Noon