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Stricken hiker airlifted from RMC cabin

Helicopter pilot Mark Johnson, a civilian attached to the State Police Aviation Unit, and state police tactical flight officer Sgt. Tom Lombardi, who on Friday afternoon rescued a Massachusetts hiker experiencing a heart attack from the side of Mt. Adams with the assistance of C.O. Matt Holmes and RMC caretaker Sam Brakeley, were all smiles on Sunday afternoon when they were once again staffed a Department of Safety exhibit at the Lancaster Fair. (click for larger version)
September 08, 2010
LOW AND BURBANK'S GRANT A state police helicopter with flying south late Friday afternoon, after being on exhibit at the Lancaster Fair, was turned around and redirected to rescue a 63-year-old hiker experiencing severe chest pain in a backcountry cabin on Mt. Adams. The chopper, with a two-man crew, had left the Fair about an-hour-an-a-half earlier than scheduled because of a report that a heavy rainstorm, associated with the periphery of Hurricane Earl, had already reached Worcester, Mass.

At about 4:30 p.m., Ernie Roy, Jr., of Tyngsborough, Mass., and his son walked into the Randolph Mountain Club's Gray Knob cabin seeking help, explained Lt. Doug Gralenski of the state Fish and Game Department in a Saturday evening telephone call.

The remote cabin, located on the northern slopes of the Presidential Range in the White Mountain National Forest, is off the Lowe's Path, more than 3 miles south of Lowe's Store on Route 2 in Randolph.

Mr. Roy was conscious and alert, but because of the seriousness of the situation and the likelihood that Mr. Roy was having a heart attack, the RMC fall caretaker, Sam Brakeley, immediately offered assistance and called 911 on his cell phone, Lt. Gralenski said.

Rescue crews, including volunteers from Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue and Appalachian Mountain Club's Madison Hut crew, plus conservation officers, were called out to begin hiking up the Lowe's Path to be ready to mount a lengthy carryout.

RMC Gray Knob is located just below treeline below a prominent knob at nearly 4,500 feet, northwest of the Mt. Adams 5,799-foot summit.

When Fish and Game Sgt. Wayne Saunders brought to his attention the availability of an already-in-the-air state police helicopter, however, this effort was no longer necessary, said Lt. Gralenski.

Conservation Officer Matt Holmes, also of the state Fish and Game Department, who was on duty at another exhibit at the Lancaster Fair, joined the pilot Mark Johnson, a civilian attached to the police Aviation unit, and tactical flight officer Sgt. Tom Lombardi of the state police Aviation Unit after they landed the chopper in a field east of Lowe's Store. Once the trio off-loaded some weight and cleared space, the chopper was soon back in the air, heading southeast to Gray Knob.

Mr. Lombardi, a very experienced pilot, was able to hover about two feet off the ground, allowing C. O. Holmes, carrying a backpack of emergency gear and medical equipment, made the long step out of the aircraft and walked about 100 yards to the RMC cabin, where he confirmed the caretaker's assessment of Mr. Roy's condition and the pilot moved the craft back into the air toward the Valley below.

When they realized that they would, indeed, need to load a stricken patient into their craft, Pilot Johnson and tactical officer Lombardi strategized about how best to position the helicopter to avoid the boulders in the small opening near Grey Knob and also to keep everyone on foot away from the chopper's dangerously moving blades.

Once the chopper was again hovering two feet off the ground, Sgt. Lombardi stepped out of chopper and helped C. O. Holmes, the RMC caretaker, and the patient's son shepherd Mr. Roy on board, Lt. Gralenski explained.

By 6 p.m., the chopper had once again landed in the Lowe's Store field, and Mr. Roy was transferred to the waiting Gorham Ambulance that rushed him to the Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin. Randolph FAST Squad member Bill Arnold also rode in the ambulance.

Early word, Lt. Gralenski reported, was that the patient was satisfactorily stabilized.

Mr. Roy, who is a regular hiker and a 5K runner, had never previously experienced the signs or symptoms of heart trouble, Lt. Gralenski noted.

"The chips all fell perfectly into place for this rescue," he said. "A state police helicopter was in the air; there was virtually no wind in a place where the wind is almost always blowing; and the thick cloud cover remained 200 feet above Gray Knob, allowing the rescue to go forward. I'd say Mr. Roy certainly had some guardian angels looking after him."

Garnett Hill
Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
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Garnett Hill
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