Acadia rescues set new record; four in two days last week

ACADIA NAT’L PARK — The 45 rescues in the park so far this year – as of Tuesday, Aug. 17 – are nearly as many as there were by the same date in 2018 and 2019 combined.

There were 22 rescues by Aug. 17 in 2018 and 27 in 2019.

For the entire 2018 calendar year, there were 36 rescues, and there were 40 in all of 2019.

Park personnel handle some rescues by themselves, but most also involve the all-volunteer Mount Desert Island Search and Rescue (MDISAR). Even though the COVID-19 pandemic sharply curtailed tourism in 2020, especially during the first half of the year, MDISAR had a record 40 call-outs including rescues and stand-bys. There have already been 37 call-outs this year, with most of them being active rescues.

Starting Aug. 6, MDISAR performed eight rescues in nine days; that included four in two days.

Ocean and brook rescues

Last Friday, Aug. 13, an 18-year-old man and a 6-year-old boy were injured in separate incidents in the park, and both required LifeFlight helicopter transport to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

A visitor swimming at Sand Beach alerted a lifeguard at about 2:48 p.m. that a young man in the ocean needed help. Witnesses said the man had been diving into an area of shallow water and appeared to have head and neck injuries.

Park rangers stabilized the man on a backboard with the assistance of bystanders, one of whom was a trauma nurse. The patient was taken to the Sand Beach parking lot, where a Bar Harbor Fire Department ambulance was waiting. He was transferred to a LifeFlight helicopter in Bar Harbor at about 3:30 p.m.

In the second rescue on Friday, a young boy sustained head and neck injuries as he slid about 50 feet down a steep slope from the Cannon Brook Trail into a pool in the brook, where his family had been swimming. The accident was reported at 3:58 p.m.

Park rangers and Bar Harbor Fire Department paramedics responded to the accident, and a Maine Forest Service helicopter crew transported the patient to a LifeFlight helicopter in Bar Harbor at about 7 p.m.

Park officials reported that more than 30 people from Acadia National Park, MDISAR and Friends of Acadia Summit Stewards were involved in the rescue.

Several other 911 calls overlapped with the two water-related rescues in the park Aug. 13. One incident involved a bicycle accident on a carriage road in which a 13-year-old was injured.

Mountain rescues

The incidents last Friday followed two mountain rescues the previous afternoon. A 32-year-old woman suffered a medical emergency on Gorham Mountain, and a 58-year-old man suffered a knee injury on the South Ridge of Sargent Mountain. A Maine Forest Service helicopter crew attempted to rescue the man but was unable to do so because of fog.

“This required park staff and Mount Desert Island Search and Rescue volunteers to divert resources from Gorham to Sargent to step in for a carry-out,” park officials said in a press release.

“The National Park Service is extremely grateful for our partnerships with the Bar Harbor Fire Department, Maine Forest Service, Mount Desert Island Search and Rescue, Maine LifeFlight and Friends of Acadia. We are also grateful for the visitors who stepped in to help where they saw a need.”

Members of Mount Desert Island Search and Rescue raise an injured rock climber who had fallen about 30 feet at Otter Cliff in Acadia National Park on the night of Aug. 9.

More rescues expected

“We still have a solid three months of high visitation, and we see a lot of rescues in the fall months, so our numbers for 2021 will just keep climbing,” Acadia’s Chief Ranger Therese Picard said following the rescues late last week.

“The majority of rescues also include a medical component, but sometimes our rescues are due to people simply being stuck,” on a ledge, for example.

One of the rescues last week was especially challenging. Eighteen MDISAR volunteers took part in the nighttime rescue of a climber who had fallen about 30 feet at Otter Cliff in Acadia on Aug. 9.

“We performed a technical raise using…a large metal tripod that lifts our rope systems up off the ground and makes the litter transition over a vertical cliff edge much easier,” said a post on the organization’s Facebook page.

“We then hand-carried the patient the remaining distance to the road to a waiting ambulance. Darkness and an incoming tide added to the challenge of the rescue, which ended just before midnight.”

The previous week, 12 MDISAR members were involved in another nighttime rescue, this one on Acadia Mountain. According to MDISAR, it involved “a steep-angle carry and multiple belays after dark.”

MDISAR President Davin O’Connell said he couldn’t speculate on why there have been so many rescues so far this year, that there didn’t seem to have been any pattern.

“We’ve seen a mix of everything,” he said.

There are currently 33 highly trained volunteers, most of whom have many years of experience, on the MDISAR call-out list.

“It is a huge commitment,” O’Connell said. “Our folks are taking time away from their work and their families to be on these rescues, and it’s definitely a challenge when you have this many rescues back to back. But we’ve got a large team with a lot of depth at this point, so we’re managing.”

MDISAR offers training for new members twice a year, in the fall and spring. For information about this fall’s training, email [email protected]

Stress ‘first aid’ for rescuers

Following especially difficult or stressful rescues, the park offers “critical incident debriefings” for all those involved, not just park personnel. Participation is voluntary.

“It’s a meeting where we review the incident as a group,” Picard said. “What we say in those meetings is confidential so that everyone can speak freely about their thoughts and emotions.”

According to Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) International, the debriefings are “a process for helping those involved in a critical incident to share their experiences, vent emotions, learn about stress reactions and symptoms and (receive) referral for further help, if needed. It is…sometimes called ‘psychological first aid.’”

Picard said Acadia has a very strong CISM program.


Hike safely in Acadia

With open cliff faces and iron rungs for climbing, the Precipice Trail on Champlain Mountain is considered the most dangerous hike in Acadia. The Beehive Trail also can be treacherous.

But falls resulting in serious injuries can happen anywhere, even on “easy” trails.

For your safety when hiking:

Tell someone your plans – where you are going and when you will return.

Hike with a least one other person, if possible.

Take a trail map; don’t rely on your phone because cell service is spotty in the park.

Stay on hiking trails and well back from drop-offs.

Wear rugged shoes or, ideally, ankle-supporting hiking boots. No sandals or flip-flops!

Remember that wet rocks and leaves can be very slippery.

Pack a light, water-repellent jacket

Carry water and a snack.

Take a first aid kit and a flashlight.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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