HOPI POINT — A 29-year-old New Zealand man who had hiked beyond a retaining wall and fell from Grand Canyon’s rim was rescued Wednesday near Hopi Point.
Search-and-rescue ranger Ken Phillips secures fall victim Richard Cole prior to being short-hauled out of the Canyon Wednesday afternoon.
In an incredible series of events, it’s the third straight successful rescue of a visitor who had gone over the rim. On March 4, a 72-year-old Missouri woman was rescued after going over at Yavapai Point and on March 20, rangers rescued a visitor who stranded himself below the rim in a spot between Yavapai and Mather Point.
"These visitors were lucky," said incident commander Bil Vandergraff, who headed up the park’s technical search-and-rescue team on the operation. "They don’t all turn out so well."
Richard Cole, the New Zealand native who has actually lived in the United States for three years, fell approximately 75 feet in a spot about one-fourth mile west of Hopi Point along Hermit Road on the West Rim.
Cole was reportedly walking along the rim below a retaining wall when he came to a point where he could not pass. When he turned around, the man fell about 40 feet, struck and then fell another 35 feet, coming to rest on a talus slope. The accident occurred at about 1:45 p.m., and was witnessed by the man’s twin brother, who reported the situation by flagging down a passing Paul Revere Transportation shuttle bus.
Vandergraff rappelled down to the victim, stabilized him and then evacuated him by helicopter short-haul to the rim. SAR’s Ken Phillips also went over the rim to provide care to Cole, who was reportedly only five to 10 feet from a 300-foot drop.
Aaron Dick of the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office also assisted with the rescue operation.
After the short-haul to the rim, the victim was transported by ground ambulance to the park’s helibase and then flown to by Guardian Air Transport to Flagstaff Medical Center. Remarkably, Cole sustained only minor injuries for such a fall, the most serious being a open fracture to his ankle.
Most accidents occurring over the rim do not end with minor injuries.
"These are preventable accidents and can quickly turn a vacation into a nightmare," Vandergraff said. "Visitors should use caution anytime they are near the rim, stay behind the guardrails and retaining walls, and be aware of their footing and the condition of the ground surface they are standing on."
The National Park Service will conduct an investigation into the accident with assistance from the county sheriff’s office.