Here’s a follow-up the the National Park Service valor awards we wrote about a few days ago. Also earning the award, the highest for park service employees, were two Zion rangers who rescued an upside-down climber in 2010, and Joshua Tree National Park staff who responded to a plane crash in 2011.

Here’s the National Park Service account:

Two Zion National Park Rangers Receive Valor Awards
  May 8, 2014

Springdale, UT- In recognition of their quick actions and willingness to place themselves in positions of danger in an effort to save the life of another, Zion National Park Rangers Craig Thexton and Therese Picard are receiving Department of Interior Valor Awards.

The incident that is being recognized took place on the evening of April 30, 2010, after Zion National Park dispatch received a report that a canyoneer was in distress on the final rappel of Pine Creek. The reporting party stated that a member of his party had lost control while rappelling, was hanging upside down, and was unable to right himself.

The Pine Creek canyoneering route travels through a deep, narrow canyon and requires five rappels. The final rappel is 90 feet long and free hanging. After completing the final rappel, canyoneers must walk and scramble ¾-mile to reach a road. The one-mile long Zion/Mount Carmel tunnel parallels the rappel route and one of the tunnel windows is 200 feet above the anchor for the final rappel.

Rangers immediately recognized the life threatening nature of the situation. Rangers Ray O’Neil, Craig Thexton, Therese Picard, and Dan Hovanec responded to the tunnel window. They rigged a lowering system and a belay line and lowered Thexton and Picard out of the tunnel window 200 feet down to the subject.

The 230 pound 40 year old male victim was hanging 80 feet above the ground and had almost entirely slipped out of his climbing harness. The only reason that he had not fallen to his death was that his climbing harness was still around his ankles and he had managed to wrap the rappel rope around his body several times. The victim was losing his ability to hold onto the rope and was not able to assist the rangers with his rescue. He told the rangers that he was too weak to continue holding on to the rope and that he had to let go which would have led to an 80 foot fall. The rangers assured the victim that they were not going to let him fall.

While hanging in their harnesses next to the victim, they wrapped webbing around him in an attempt to create a new harness. Due to the wetsuit and other factors, the webbing repeatedly slipped off the desperate man. After a few minutes, they were able to wrap enough webbing around him, that they believed that he could be raised ten feet to the rim of the last rappel. They requested that O’Neil and Hovanec haul them up.

Hovanec and O’Neil and other rangers who arrived at the window used a mechanical advantage pulley system to haul Thexton, Picard, and the victim to safety. From the time of the initial report a total of 56 minutes elapsed before the victim was sitting safely at the top of the last rappel. During that time, rangers organized a response, prepared gear, drove to the scene, constructed an anchor and lowering system, lowered two rangers to the victim, and raised the victim to the top of the rappel. During this response minutes mattered, and the quick actions of the rangers saved a life. The victim did not suffer any long term injuries as a result of the incident.

Park Employees Receive National Recognition for Valor

On July 11, 2011, Joshua Tree National Park employees Jeremie M. Johnson and Danielle L. Sandoval were traveling through the park to a trail project site with a Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) crew when they noticed smoke.

Upon investigation, the two discovered a plane had crashed, ejecting the pilot and igniting a brush fire. Keeping the YCC crew at a safe distance, they calmly assessed the scene, contacted dispatch to expedite rescue personnel and proceeded to assist the pilot. They extinguished the resulting brush fire, so they access and provide aid to the severely injured man. They instructed the YCC crew on how to direct incoming rescue personnel.

Awards for Bravery Presented to Smokies Park Ranger and Townsend Firefighter

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Ranger Brad Griest and Townsend Fire Department Volunteer Firefighter Christopher Scarbrough were recognized in Washington DC on May 8, 2014, for their heroic actions that saved the life of a motorist.

In December 2011, Griest and Scarbrough rescued a barely conscious motorist trapped in a partially submerged vehicle in Little River. They winched open the door against the strong current, freed the driver, secured him to a litter, and lifted him up a steep embankment to an ambulance. The complicated rescue from the unstable truck occurred at night with temperatures hovering around 45 degrees F. Both recipients risked their lives to save a life of another person while on property owned by and entrusted to the Department of Interior.

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