GC VILLAGE — While most of the local community was celebrating the Fourth of July last summer, three members of Grand Canyon National Park’s search-and-rescue team — Jennifer Flynn, Eddie Thoroughgood and Carl Helquist — found themselves involved in a life-saving effort at Zion National Park.
Grand Canyon National Park’s Jennifer Flynn lands at a helispot at Zion National Park with injured hiker Thomas Vogl this past Fourth of July. (Photo by Zion National Park)
Situated north of Grand Canyon in southwest Utah, Zion National Park features many scenic trails, colored cliffs, rock formations and deep canyons. The park draws plenty of tourists and last summer was no exception. Many come to see Zion Canyon, the 15-mile long, half-mile deep gorge cut by the Virgin River.
Thomas Vogl and Dan Kanivas were two day-hikers visiting Zion on the Fourth of July 2001. But the short afternoon hike up to Angels Landing Viewpoint became an ordeal that nearly claimed Vogl’s life.
While hiking down at 2 p.m., Vogl, a student at Princeton University in New Jersey, became separated off the trail from his hiking partner. Trying to climb down to rejoin the trail, Vogl slipped and fell 20 feet, striking his head against a rock.
"Vogl lay unconscious following the accident and would not respond to any physical stimulus," reads a description of the incident by Zion officials. "Zion National Park personnel immediately initiated an emergency response after being notified by cellular telephone."
Park medics reached Vogl at the scene of the accident on foot and began medical care. Emergency Medical Services personnel provided him with oxygen and immobilized his spine.
"It was determined that the critical nature of Vogl’s injuries necessitated rapid transport from the accident site in the backcountry," the report reads. "Relying on their own field rescue expertise, Zion National Park requested the assistance of Grand Canyon National Park in order to conduct a helicopter short-haul rescue."
It was a busy summer for Grand Canyon’s search-and-rescue personnel. Several helicopter evacuations were performed, including two earlier that week from Phantom Ranch.
Zion National Park does not have the need for a search-and-rescue team such as the one seen at Grand Canyon. SAR ranger Ken Phillips said "usually once a year, we’ll go to Zion to do a short-haul. Zion does not have that capability."
When the call from Zion came in on the Fourth of July, ranger Jennifer Flynn along with helicopter manager Carl Helquist and park pilot Eddie Thoroughgood responded to the request for assistance. Phillips said the thin crew of three people was assigned so a light copter could carry as much fuel as possible.
Meanwhile back at Zion, rescuers went ahead and carried various types of equipment up the trail to the accident site in case a ground-based evacuation would be necessary. But the answer ended up being the short-haul operation.
Thoroughgood, who works for Grand Canyon Papillon Helicopters, flew to the scene in the National Park Service helicopter 210. Flynn was inserted to the accident scene, where Vogl was rigged for the aerial evacuation.
"Jennifer was a medic suspended underneath the helicopter," Phillips said. "Eddie was the pilot and Carl was the short-haul spotter."
Vogl and Flynn were flown to a staging helispot where the patient was then transferred to a commercial air ambulance helicopter and flown to Las Vegas.
"These prompt actions directly contributed to Thomas Vogl’s prognosis and full recovery," Zion’s report on the incident reads.
The 24 rescue personnel from Zion and three from Grand Canyon were recently granted the Exemplary Act Award for the life-saving effort.
Phillips said the Exemplary Act Award is the highest honor for a life-saving act that Department of Interior personnel can receive without risking their own lives.
Vogl recovered and returned to school at Princeton for the fall semester. Kanivas, the hiking partner with Vogl, later wrote to Zion National Park.
"While you were just doing your jobs, you have left an unforgettable mark upon each of our lives," Kanivas wrote. "Were it not for your efforts, I doubt that he would be alive today. I cannot express enough how thankful we are.
"Thank you for being our heroes, for that day and for the rest of our lives."