SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The rotor blades of a helicopter struck a California Highway Patrol officer, severely wounding him as he worked to rescue an injured hiker stranded in rugged, remote terrain, officials said.
And in an unlikely twist, the Highway Patrol on Monday credited the hiker, a military doctor who suffered a broken leg in a fall, with helping to save Officer Tony Stanley's life.
Stanley was one of two officers called out to pick up Jeremy Kilburn, a major with the U.S. Air Force who has served as a trauma surgeon in Afghanistan. Kilburn also dislocated his ankle during a hike Thursday through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in Northern California, said CHP Lt. Scott Fredrick.
After the helicopter landed on what Fredrick described as a granite rock next to a steep embankment, Stanley was hit by the aircraft's rotor blades as he started to climb up the embankment to get to the hiker.
"It was a very remote area with basically sheer cliffs, granite and treacherous terrain," Fredrick said.
Because of privacy rules, the CHP is not revealing the exact nature of Stanley's injuries, or releasing his condition, but officials had initially described his injuries as "critical" and "life-threatening."
California Highway Patrol officials said Monday that Stanley was lucky to be alive.
Kilburn's friend Dan Grasso, of Sunnyvale, and hikers from a Santa Cruz youth group carried the injured doctor down an embankment in the forest near Big Bear Lake so he could provide medical aid to the injured CHP officer.
The team of improbable heroes, including Elizabeth Fitch and Bryce Harbert, both of Santa Cruz, and the CHP pilot, Officer Brian Henderson, loaded the critically injured Stanley onto the helicopter. And as the single-engine helicopter made the 41-mile flight to a Redding hospital, Fitch held IV bags and applied pressure to slow the injured officer's bleeding while Kilburn directed, said Fredrick, the CHP spokesman.
"We credit Dr. Kilburn and Fitch with saving the officer's life," Fredrick said. "These hikers were critical is saving his life, especially Kilburn and Fitch."
Kilburn, who serves as a critical care pulmonologist with the Air Force and is assigned to Nellis Air Force Base, outside of Las Vegas, Nev., was not available for comment Monday night, said Benjamin Newell, a civilian public affairs specialist at the base.
Stanley, 40, a 10-year-veteran of the agency, and trained as a flight officer/paramedic, remained hospitalized.
"He lives for this kind of stuff. He's a very tenacious and spirited officer, who has done this (performed rescues) many times," Fredrick said. "This is what he loves to do."
The accident is the latest of several involving rescues in mountainous areas in the West. On Sunday, a memorial service was held for Utah Highway Patrol officer who died during a June 30 search and rescue accident. Utah authorities say Officer Aaron R. Beesley, 34, lost his footing and fell from a 90-foot cliff to his death during the aerial rescue of two teenager hikers.
In Washington state, Mount Rainier climbing ranger Nick Hall, 33, died in a 2,400 fall last month after helping rescue four climbers from Waco, Texas.
Attempts to reach Grasso, Fitch and Harbert were unsuccessful.