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DPS air rescue hits milestone in Sedona
Expansion of nighttime technical rescue capabilities

A freeze frame of an Arizona Department of Public Safety body camera video during the rescue of a hiker in Sedona Nov. 11.
Yavapai County Sheriff's Office/Courtesy

A freeze frame of an Arizona Department of Public Safety body camera video during the rescue of a hiker in Sedona Nov. 11.

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A freeze frame of an Arizona Department of Public Safety body camera video during the rescue of a hiker in Sedona Nov. 11.

For the rescue of a 52-year-old Sedona man last month, the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) successfully executed something they’ve never tried before: an external load technical rescue during night hours.

It was after 5 p.m. on Nov. 11 when the man, John Knight, called for help. He had gotten stuck on the side of Capitol Butte (aka Thunder Mountain), Sedona, while hiking, according to a Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office (YCSO) news release. He was off trail and situated on a small rock completely surrounded by near vertical faces. All he had was a cell phone and the light clothing on his back. The temperature was forecast to drop down to near freezing.

Verde Search and Rescue Ground units were deployed above and below Knight and were able to make contact with him. However, there was no safe way to retrieve the man on foot, so a DPS helicopter was requested to assist with the nighttime technical rescue.

Ranger 1, DPS’s new Bell 429 helicopter, arrived after sunset and using an external hoist, deployed a trooper/paramedic onto the ledge near the Knight, according to a DPS news release.

The helicopter’s lighting illuminated the scene while the trooper/paramedic wrapped Knight in a specialized transport suit.

“It’s pretty amazing what you’re doing,” Knight told the trooper as she was preparing him for the rescue.

Using the external hoist, he was pulled into the hovering helicopter and flown to a YCSO command post. Knight was uninjured during the operation.

Although DPS air rescue units have been rescuing victims across the state for nearly 50 years, this was the first external load technical rescue performed during night hours, according to the news release.

Technical rescues are routinely conducted during daylight hours by DPS Air Rescue units. During night hours, ranger crews traditionally access and extract victims by landing in confined spaces, one-skid landings, or hover insertions/extractions.

The lack of external load capability at night can slow the rescue of victims in emergency situations. This new hoist capability is a lot safer, the release said.

The night time technical mission was also made possible because of the extensive training by the helicopter crew. For the last 12 months, the DPS’s helicopter crews have gained significant experience in hoist operations and recently completed an intense two-week training program.

“This type of rescue is challenging even in the best of circumstances,” said Colonel Frank Milstead, the director for DPS. “Our new equipment and training that enabled this rescue to occur at night really paid off. The victim was unprepared for a very cold night and our crew recognized he needed to be extracted from the mountain before temperatures dropped.”

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