ACADIA NAT’L PARK — More than two dozen rescuers worked for more than six hours Saturday to extricate a climber with a broken leg from cliffs along the Precipice on Champlain Mountain.
According to one of the nearby hikers who called 911, the sound of rescue whistles and yells for help were preceded by the sound of large rocks falling off the cliffs. “We heard rocks letting go and then people shouting ‘call 9-1-1,’” the hiker said. Rangers received multiple calls about the accident around noon.
Xavier Moran, 29, of Canada suffered a broken leg and arm injuries. According to rangers, Moran and his hiking companions had grown impatient while waiting in a line of people to ascend a section of iron ladder rungs on the narrow trail that clings to 800 feet of cliffs on the east side of the mountain. They decided to bypass the trail and free climb, without ropes, to the top of the mountain. At some point, Moran fell about 15 feet when he dislodged a boulder. He then skidded and tumbled another 20 feet or so, according to reports.
Rangers initially had difficulty locating Moran due to the steep cliffs and off-trail location. Members of Mount Desert Island Search and Rescue (MDISAR) also responded. They had been conducting training exercises nearby earlier in the day.
Ranger Seamus Russet and Dr. Julius Krevans Jr., who both volunteer for MDISAR in their off hours, rappelled approximately 80 feet from ledges near the top to reach Moran. Others in the 20-member rescue team, under the direction of Ranger Chris Wiebusch, rigged ropes so that the wire stokes litter containing Moran could be raised higher up the cliffs where extraction by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter would not put the crew and people on the ground in unnecessary danger.
Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod launched an MH-60 helicopter crew that arrived on scene approximately 4:30 p.m. Because of the perpendicular terrain, the helicopter could not get close enough to the granite cliffs to raise Moran from where rescuers found him. Ground crews raised him up the mountain with a system of climbing ropes. Russet, suspended beneath the stokes, accompanied Moran and helped guide the litter past rocks and trees during the raise, which took approximately half an hour.
Meanwhile, a Coast Guard medic and gear were lowered to the top of the cliffs. Just last week, U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crews conducted training exercises off the shore in Manset.
Park officials closed the Schooner Head Overlook area for several hours in case it was needed as a landing zone. The Precipice Trail was closed for the remainder of the day.
Around 6 p.m., in near-total darkness, rescuers were notified by radio to “prepare for downwash” as the 65-mph blast from the rotor blades hit them, sending loose debris and vegetation flying in all directions. The hoist on the helicopter was able to pull the metal basket containing Moran off the cliffs as the aircraft remained perfectly stationary despite gusty winds. A second raising operation got the Coast Guard crewmember back on board. As low fog and drizzle began to billow over the top of the mountain, the helicopter flew to the athletic field in Bar Harbor where a Bar Harbor Fire Department ambulance was waiting.
Rescue crews still had several hours of work to do, re-rigging ropes to get Krevans, an emergency room physician, back up to the top and to collect and haul the remaining rescue gear off the 1,000-foot mountain via a regular hiking trail.
After an initial examination at the MDI Hospital emergency room, Moran got his second helicopter ride of the day, this time via LifeFlight, to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. His injuries were not considered life-threatening.
Updated Oct. 12 at 9:10 a.m.