Overnight Rescue in Zero Gravity Canyon

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Emery County Sheriff’s Office Press Release

San Rafael Desert, Emery County – August 16-17, 2017 A Salt Lake County woman is recovering after being wedged in and suspended for nearly 12 hours in a narrow portion of Zero Gravity Canyon in the San Rafael Desert.

Emery County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch received a call on Wednesday afternoon at 4:30 from the woman’s husband. He stated that his 24-year-old wife was stuck in a slot canyon and that he had been trying to get her out for nearly two hours. When he couldn’t free her, he hiked until he had cell phone service and called 9-1-1. Emery County Search and Rescue rope team members and the State DPS helicopter were dispatched, as well as the Classic Air helicopter out of Vernal.

Once responders arrived near the scene, the State DPS helicopter transported the men and their gear to the canyon. The first rescuer on scene was able to make verbal contact with the woman. She was extremely distraught, in pain and was having difficulty breathing due to being wedged in. Responders rigged a rope system to lower a rope team member into the slot canyon. However, due to size restrictions in this part of the canyon and the way the canyon tapered inward as he went down, he could not get close enough to the woman.

There was one rescuer in the group that was small enough to reach the woman, and he was lowered into the crevasse. The woman was wearing a harness, so rescuers rigged a system to pull her out. However, she was wedged in so tightly that pulling on her was causing more pain. One rescuer entered the slot canyon below the woman and was able to touch the bottom of her feet, giving her a way to push against him as she was being pulled from above. Moving her was causing further pain and making it difficult for her to breathe.

At this point, rescuers considered calling for additional resources. They weighed options and reevaluated rescue efforts. Rescuers then set more anchors and set up a haul line above the woman, while others pulled from side to side in a see saw motion in an attempt to free her. Additionally, a gallon of dish soap was poured around the woman, a technique that had been successful in a prior rescue in the same general area.

One of the rescuers was on a rope in the canyon for nearly seven hours. Knowing that suspension trauma and compartment syndrome were issues for him as well as the woman and other rescuers on ropes, extreme caution was taken during the rescue.

Rescuers were eventually able to free the woman and pull her up far enough that she could sit on a choke stone in the slot canyon while they fitted her with a better harness for extraction. She was loaded into the medical helicopter around 2 a.m., nearly 12 hours after becoming trapped.

Not only did Classic Air medical personnel provide phenomenal patient care, but they were also essential to this successful rope rescue mission. The woman was transported by air to a trauma center for treatment. She remains in ICU this evening.

This unfortunate event is a good time to remind those visiting the San Rafael Desert to do thorough research on the areas you intend to hike. Some canyons come with size restrictions, including Zero Gravity. This is the second rescue this summer in Zero Gravity, and the first one was within four feet of the location of this rescue. What started out as a day hike for this couple became a dangerous rescue mission for all involved.

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