Monday’s mission near South Maroon Peak marked Mountain Rescue Aspen’s first helicopter rescue since the death of Doug Sheffer, a longtime local pilot who was one of three people killed in a helicopter crash near Silt in January.
Around 1 p.m. Monday, the Aspen/Pitkin County Communications Center was notified by te Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office of an emergency distress signal coming from a group of skiers near South Maroon Peak. A female skier had a broken leg at about 13,500 feet.
Flight for Life, a longtime Mountain Rescue Aspen partner, provided helicopter assistance, dropping off six mountaineer-rescuers approximately 1,500 feet below the patient. After reaching the patient, the team lowered her with ropes and snow anchors to the landing zone, where she and her climbing companion were extracted by helicopter around 7 p.m. Aspen Ambulance and deputies from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office also assisted in the rescue.
Mountain Rescue Aspen President Jeff Edelson said the organization has had strong relationships for many years with three flight providers: Flight for Life, the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site and Rifle-based DBS Helicopters, which Sheffer owned.
Edelson said one of the big losses suffered from Sheffer’s death was his expertise and capability at high altitude. Hover loads and one-skid landings were two particular skills he provided as well as extensive knowledge in the Elk Mountains.
“It’ll be very hard to ever replace what he did for us, but we also have two other great partnerships,” Edelson said. “Flight for Life stepped up to the plate and is helping fill that role, just like our other vendors will be.”
For the summer season, Edelson said Mountain Rescue Aspen expects backcountry enthusiasts to be self-sustaining for 24 hours.
“Be prepared for the worst. Have communication, and just be prepared for the unexpected, that you might need to spend the night out when you didn’t plan on it,” Edelson said.
“In this case, the good fortune of helicopter availability and good weather allowed for a successful rescue,” a statement on Monday’s rescue said.