CHP helicopter and backcountry rescues


chp.jpgYesterday morning at 9:20AM Inyo County Sheriff’s Dispatch received notification that a SPOT device had been activated with the approximate coordinates of Little Whitney Meadow – west of Lone Pine in the high Sierra’s.  Seth Baker, a 29-year old man out of Bakersfield, CA was camping with six friends, when (according to Baker) he was bucked off his mule after he and his friends were racing their mules across a meadow. Baker hit the ground with the left side of his body, and attempted to “walk off the pain”.

By the following morning (the 24th) Baker was unable to move.  One of the campers had a SPOT device and activated it for help.  California Highway Patrol (CHP) helicopter H80, out of Apple Valley, responded to Baker’s location, and transported him to the Lone Pine Airport where he was met by an ambulance to further transport him to Southern Inyo Hospital for treatment.

At 12:20PM yesterday afternoon Sheriff’s Dispatch was contacted to assist 64-year old David Cooper from Sacramento, CA and Nicholas Andrade a 24-year old man from Northridge, CA who were stuck on Wheeler Ridge Road (which is a steep non-paved road above the Bishop area that leads to Wheeler Crest).  According to Andrade, Cooper (who is Andrade’s grandfather) wanted to show him the area. They began their drive on Wheeler Ridge Road on June 23, 2014; Andrade said Cooper asked him to drive because he was feeling tired.  Andrade, who was unfamiliar with rough backcountry roads, got the truck stuck in a sandy patch and the truck began to slide (slightly) down the mountain.  Cooper and Andrade both exited the vehicle. Not knowing what to do, they camped overnight near Cooper’s truck. 

The next morning, Cooper was feeling weak and tired.  Andrade walked down Wheeler Ridge Road until he was able to get cellular service and call for help. CHP H80 transported Cooper and Andrade to the Bishop airport where Symons Emergency Services transported Cooper to Northern Inyo Hospital for medical evaluation.  The US Forest Service also assisted.


15 Responses to CHP helicopter and backcountry rescues

  1. RAM June 26, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

    Nicholas, It sounds like you’re stuck in the sandy part after where you traverse the Eastern slope of Wheeler just before the end of the road, or perhaps you got a tire or two off the side of the road on the traverse.

    It’s tough to get a full size truck up there. Although I’ve seen a couple up there over the years. Did you happen to take a picture of where it’s stuck before you left it there?

    A jeep is the easiest way to get up there, perhaps a jeep with a winch and another one for an anchor might do it but it really depends where you’re stuck, what type of vehicle, and how far off the road it is.

    You could pin point the location using google earth.

    You might want to contact the Eastern Sierra 4 Wheel Drive Club, perhaps some of their members can help.

    • Nicholas June 26, 2014 at 7:34 pm #

      Hello Ram and everyone,

      Thank you for your advice. I was able to snap a few photos of how the truck got stuck, and I can email them to you. I do have a latitude and longitude as well. It is in the sand on the eastern side, not too far from the crest. I agree that a jeep would be best, but unfortunately I do not know anyone who does any off-road driving. Feel free to email me directly with any possible advice. My email is [email protected].

      Thank you,

  2. Nicholas June 26, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    Hey Bob and everyone,

    I got the truck stuck in a pretty tough spot, and it’s going to be a pretty pricy tow to get it out. There are a few folks I am working with to get it out, but it will cost my savings account. 🙁 . Would you have any recommendations as to how to get it down?

    Also, my grandfather is in the hospital with a sever bladder and kidney infection. We left Inyo county hospital after some family came to transport us back to Sacramento. We are going to be here until he gets better, and we will have to leave the truck there until we can find a way down.

    Thanks for any advise.

    Nicholas Andrade

    • erik simpson June 26, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

      Many years ago I participated in an attempted recovery of a car that slid off a dirt road in the White Mountains. It was below Schulman Grove, but the road wasn’t paved in those days. We had a WWII surplus bomb loading truck with a winch and a boom hoist. We made the situation worse. Make sure the people with winches and whatever equipment know what they’re doing, or it may wind being even more expensive.

      • Desert Tortoise June 27, 2014 at 10:16 am #

        I don’t know the particulars of that road, but it sounds like you could just as easily drag the winch vehicle over the side as you can winch the other vehicle up the slope. Is it possible to anchor a pully on a stout tree and winch through that so you don’t drag the winch vehicle over the side? Does that kind of make sense. The winch vehicle would be pulled towards the tree instead of downslope to the car being winched up. Just an idea. Don’t give me too many thumbs down 😮

        • RAM June 27, 2014 at 2:31 pm #

          No thumbs down as that’s always something to think about. There are not many trees on the eastern traverse. A high lift jack would probably get it out also.

          Nicholas sent me some pictures it’s not nearly as bad as it could be. I’ve seen others stuck the same way in the same place.

  3. Sick of Mono County June 26, 2014 at 10:28 am #

    They use CHP helicopters because they are free. The others in the area cost $$$ CHP does not charge for SAR missions. Economics

    • Wayne Deja June 26, 2014 at 4:06 pm #

      ….The CHP helicopters and pilots seem to be doing a really good job in the recent SAR missions….and NO ONE gets charged when a SAR mission is needed….and got to ask this….if your “sick of Mono County” why do you stay there ?

  4. chris June 25, 2014 at 9:16 pm #

    Good question, Rick. Benett, would you check this out? Probably an issue of finances, even if Inyo & Mono Counties shared. But we mush pay Fresno, China Lake, and others for their helicopter services.

    • Benett Kessler June 25, 2014 at 9:31 pm #

      Might be type of helicopter picking up people in the mountains. Not sure. BK

      • Ken Warner June 25, 2014 at 10:46 pm #

        Benett: I think you are right. The helicopter may have to hover at altitudes up to 14,000 feet to pick up one or more stranded people plus carrying the rescue personnel. Not something that any old helicopter can do.

        Not that I know that much about it. I’m just speculating.

  5. Rick O'Brien June 25, 2014 at 7:55 pm #

    I just checked google street-view and there’s the forest service chopper , sitting on the landing pad ,adjacent to 395 in Independence. a LOT closer than Fresno OR China Lake.

    • Desert Tortoise June 26, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

      A fire fighting helicopter and it’s crew may or may not have the certifications necessary for a medivac. The helicopter will probably not have any kind of instrument flight capability (none of the logging/firefighting helicopters I flew did), they are strictly VFR (visual flight rules) aircraft. Such a helo will almost never have any kind of hoisting equipment required to perform a mountain rescue. They are stripped bare to make them as light as possible to permit the maximum quantity of water to be carried and to reduce maintenance. Fewer systems mean fewer things to break and prevent the helo from performing it’s mission.

      A military helicopter, by comparison, will be lavishly equipped, but you have to keep in mind the altitudes up here. Helicopter rotors lose lift and turbine engines lose power as altitude, temperature and humidity increase. It also takes a lot more power, nearly twice as much, to hover “out of ground effect”, meaning at an altitude where the rotor tip voticies don’t impact the ground (about 1/2 rotor diameter above ground level). A helo that could HOGE, hover out of ground effect, safely at 4000 feet might not have the power to do so at 6000 or 8000 feet due to the weight of all the equipment they carry. A couple of Navy helicopters found that out the hard way over Lake Tahoe. They decided they would try dipping their sonar in the lake (they have a sonar that drops out of the belly of the helo on 1200 feet of cable). Doing so requires a 40 foot HOGE. The helo can do that just fine at sea level, but at 6200 feet the first helo found it didn’t have the power and went into the water. The second helo went down to rescue the crew and ran out of power to hover too. Strike two helos that cost the taxpayer many tens of millions of dollars each. Strip the weight out and they can do it, but most branches don’t permit equipment to be removed that way.

      My own squadron lost two helos up near Bridgeport when they were caught in a mountain wave crash landing in the mountains fortunately with no major injuries or fatalaties. One of the perils of being a Navy helo pilot is that you do darn little mountain flying and are often not aware of the dangers of mountain waves, getting caught in a canyon that rises faster than the helicopter can climb, etc. Sure you are taught these things but you don’t encounter them often enough to stay out of trouble.

      All I am saying is just because you saw a helo somewhere don’t assume it can necessarily do mountain SAR. That is very specialized work that requires trained aircrew and the right equipment.

  6. Rick O'Brien June 25, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

    Why is it that Inyo and Mono Counties always have to ask for a helicopter from Fresno, or China Lake ? Do both counties (who seem to have a greater need for them) NOT have one of their own ? I’ve seen the big,black military chopper at the on the ground at the Bridgeport airstrip many times and also , the forest service chopper that sits at the airfield right next to 395 in the Owens Valley.

  7. Bob June 25, 2014 at 10:58 am #

    I’ve been up there a hundred times and the wheeler road is the last place you want an inexperienced driver behind the wheel. Odd they didn’t have cell reception if they were on the side where you can see Bishop. I’ve also know of others that have slide off the road where it traverses the Eastern side of Wheeler. That’s a crazy place to get stuck. Roll off there and you’re done.


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