On Monday, June 18, 2012, Yosemite National Park Search and Rescue responded to a report of a 63-year-old woman with a compound ankle fracture about a mile-and-a-half down the Panorama Trail near Glacier Point.
Due to limited staffing, the severity of the injury, and the time it would take to reach her, the team decided to insert one paramedic and one park medic via heli-rappel to the woman’s location. Shortly after receiving the call, Helicopter 551 departed Yosemite Valley. The helicopter was rigged for the rappel operation and two rescuers were lowered to a point about 30 yards from the woman’s location. Rescuers were also assisted on scene by two EMT's. They immediately began treating the patient and preparing for a short haul extraction back to Yosemite Valley. The woman was then flown to an ambulance in Yosemite Valley and transported to Fresno, California, for further care.
This incident marks the first use of live helicopter rappel since the new NPS helicopter rappel operations plan was put into effect. The program has been at a standstill since 2010, when a rappeller was tragically killed during a live rappel. The new program utilizes a combination of the Petzl RIG descent device and nylon kernmantle static rope to deliver search and rescue and fire personnel to incidents where access is limited or time is critical.