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Front Page » May 6, 2003 » Local News » Colorado Man Trapped for Five Days-Survives Painful Ordeal
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Colorado Man Trapped for Five Days-Survives Painful Ordeal


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Aron Ralston came through this opening and went on to rappel to the canyon floor.

On the afternoon of April 26, Aron Ralston, 27, of Aspen, Colo. was solo canyoneering in remote Blue John Canyon, adjacent to the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park. His intended one-day route was down the main fork of Blue John Canyon to its intersection with Horseshoe Canyon. In a three foot wide section of Blue John Canyon a boulder weighing approximately 200 pounds fell on Ralston, pinning his right arm. Ralston was unable to move and was trapped. On the morning of April 29, Ralston ran out of water.

On May 1, the Emery County Sheriff's Office and the national park service were notified of Ralston being four days overdue reporting for work. The Incident Command System was implemented with a unified command structure-each agency assumed a command function and provided resources. Utah Public Safety, Wayne County Sheriff's Office, the Bureau of Land Management and Grand County Search and Rescue provided additional resources.

That morning Ralston realized that his survival required drastic action and he amputated his arm below the elbow utilizing his pocket knife. He then applied a tourniquet and administered first aid. He then rigged anchors and fixed a rope to rappel to the floor of Blue John canyon where he then continued hiking downstream into Horseshoe Canyon and was located at 3 p.m. by a Utah Public Safety helicopter.

He was transported to Allen Memorial Hospital in Moab where he was stabilized and was later transported to St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction, Colo. by a CareFlight helicopter for further treatment.

Ralston is an avid outdoors person and in exceptional physical condition. He is known to have climbed 49 of the 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado. He was preparing for an upcoming Denali expedition.

One officer involved in the rescue said that search and rescue units looked in the Black Box area and the upper and lower Segers Hole and also on the Muddy before being alerted that the hiker might be in the Horseshoe Canyon area. The parks service responded and located the hiker's vehicle at the trailhead of Horseshoe Canyon. Captain Kyle Ekker from the Emery County Sheriff's Office arranged for the helicopter which then aided in the search. The helicopter picked up an officer at Huntington Airport and picked up Sgt. Mitch Vetere at Horseshoe Canyon. The parks service was concerned that the hiker might be in the area below Horseshoe Canyon and the helicopter searched the lower area first.

The hiker was not spotted below so the helicopter covered the area above and three hikers were spotted and two of them waved at the helicopter.

The helicopter set down on the canyon floor and the officers exited the helicopter and a man walked up to them and said, "I need medical care. I had to cut my arm off." The officers led the man back to the helicopter where he was given small amounts of water and transported to the Allen Memorial Hospital in Moab; which was a 12 minute ride. The officers talked to the man and he was coherent and in good spirits.

The officers involved were impressed with Ralston. They said he was extremely brave and resourceful. The hospital asked if the officers might be able to retrieve Ralston's hand so it could be reattached. The officers returned to the site and located the boulder which had fallen on the arm of Ralston, but were unable to retrieve it because of the weight of the boulder and they weren't equipped with the type of equipment that could move a boulder of that size. The officers were directed back to the spot by Ralston.

He drew a map of where he was and described exactly where he had left his things and where the boulder was. The officers said it was pretty rough going in the area.

Ralston, after amputating his arm rappelled to the bottom of the canyon and then hiked five miles down to where he met two hikers on their way up the canyon.

He was within one mile of his vehicle which still had the keys in it at the time of his rescue. The officer involved estimated the rock to be much more than 200 pounds with a guess of anywhere from 600-1,000 pounds.

"It was a huge boulder," he said. "I think Ralston was reaching around the rock to get a hold to lower himself to the ledge below which was about seven feet beneath him, when he came around the rock it moved and slid down approximately one foot trapping his right arm against the wall of the canyon. He told us he had a little food left, but had run out of water on Tuesday.

"He said he felt like nobody was going to find him and if he didn't amputate his arm and get out of there he wouldn't make it. He was probably right, he was in such a tight area. He wouldn't have been visible from the air. He told us his arm really hurt.

"We held it above his head to help control bleeding on the way to the hospital. He had taken his camels back water holder and fashioned a sling out of it. He was very resourceful. The hikers that Ralston met on the way down were walking him back down. He wasn't in shock and in remarkable condition for what he had been through. He was wearing shorts at the time and I know those nights are cold in that canyon.

"He was an expert canyoneer and with the equipment he had with him he was very well prepared for about anything.

"Ralston had carved the words, 'good luck now,' on the canyon wall where he was trapped at some point in his confinement.

"The helicopter pilot, Terry Mercer, was just awesome and we want to thank him for all he did in the search," said the officer.

Ralston was scheduled to undergo surgery on Monday at St. Mary's Hospital to shorten the bone so Ralston could be fitted with a prosthesis at a later time.

The hand was recovered on Sunday.

Ralston was also reported to have a bike which he had left in the Blue John Canyon area.


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