Rescuers save three near summit snowsheds
Fire and rescue personnel labored for more than four hours Saturday night to help bring two injured snowboarders and one stranded skier safely out of the backcountry on Donner Summit’s steep terrain above the Union Pacific snowsheds near Rainbow Bridge.
According to Placer County Sheriff’s Office and Donner Summit Fire Department reports, three Bay Area skiers and snowboarders became separated from their group after hiking up Mt. Judah and skiing down the back side.
Robert Joseph, and Jeanette Smith, both 26, and Yen Chang, 24, were unfamiliar with the area and realized they were lost, according to rescue personnel. As it became dark, they saw headlights on Old Highway 40 and attempted to get to that area. Joseph and Smith, both on snowboards, fell approximately 60 feet from a cliff site, landing above the snowsheds, leaving Chang stranded above.
“These people had no business being there,” said DSFD Chief Bryce Keller. “They were unprepared. They were inexperienced and in a dangerous spot. Because of their ignorance and inexperience, they put public safety personnel at risk.”
Keller said the rescue, which had to be lit with spot lights, required 10 DSFD personnel as well as Placer County Search and Rescue personnel and was conducted on extremely steep and dangerous terrain.
DSFD rescue crews first made access to the injured Joseph and Smith through the snowsheds.
The patients were transported on snowmobiles through the snowsheds. Smith suffered a lower leg fracture as well as facial injuries and Joseph had a broken shoulder, according to the report.
“Our first task was to define where they were, rescue the injured parties and then go after the third party,” Keller said.
Chang suffered from mild hypothermia.
According to DSFD firefighter/paramedic Linda Melvin, a group of at least five started hiking up Mt. Judah around noon. The group apparently had different ski levels, and the three less experienced were separated from the others. The rest of the group made it back to ASI, and when Joseph, Smith and Chang didn’t return and it started to get dark, they reported them missing.
Smith was transported to Tahoe Forest Hospital, and the other two refused treatment, Melvin said.
Rescue crews worked from just before 8 p.m. to midnight.
“This was really an extreme rescue,” Keller said.
Sugar Bowl Ski Corp. loaned a snowmobile to the rescue effort. Keller said that DSFD is well-prepared for winter emergencies in part from funds granted by Alpine Winter Foundation. These funds are used to purchase rescue equipment such as snowmobiles and transceivers.
A billing package will be submitted through Placer County, Keller said.
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