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North Shore Rescue saves man from deadly cliff face

The man was found clinging to a cliff ledge and 'went limp' with exhaustion as soon as rescuers secured him in a safety harness
North Shore Rescue volunteers prepare to hoist a lost and exhausted man from a deadly cliff face on Mount Fromme in the North Vancouver backcountry, Sept. 20, 2021. | North Shore Rescue

It’s one of the most harrowing calls North Shore Rescue has carried out this year.

Volunteers pulled a lost and exhausted man to safety Wednesday night after he’d spent more than an hour precariously clinging to a cliff ledge.

North Shore Rescue received a call from North Vancouver RCMP around 6:30 p.m. after a distraught man called 911.

“The way that this call came in really had us on high alert,” said team leader Mike Danks. “It was from an individual that was very worked up, saying that they were stuck on a rock face and they weren’t sure how much longer they could hang on. This was an imminent call to get in there right away before this person falls.”

When they managed to get GPS co-ordinates, it gave rescuers an eerie feeling, Danks said. The subject was in virtually the exact same place as a hiker who fell from the cliff and died in May of 2021.

“We weren’t sure if we were going to find somebody at the bottom of the cliff,” he said.

Things have changed since then, however.

In December 2022, the team was given the OK by the province to begin using night vision and a helicopter hoist to extract people from danger after darkness.

With the use of their night-vision capabilities, they could see where the subject was from kilometres away, Danks said.

They used the helicopter’s hoist to gently lower two rescue technicians down to a point they could anchor themselves, belay down to the man, and help him up to a safe place to be hoisted back up.

Soon after the subject was safely harnessed, he went limp with exhaustion, Danks said.

“If that night vision machine wasn’t available, there’s no way this guy would have made it,” he said.

The man had intended to go to Norvan Falls but he got off trail and started scaling up the steep edge of Mount Fromme, which was the exact same scenario as the hiker who died there in 2021. It underscores the need for careful trip planning and sticking to the trail, Danks said.

Earlier in the day, the team used their traditional long line to rescue a 66-year-old man with a history of asthma after he became lost and exhausted in Hanes Valley.

Danks said calls for rescue have been steady through the summer, although since Talon Helicopters machines have come back from fighting wildfires, there has been more demand to assist other B.C. teams that don’t have access to night vision flying. This was the third time this week that NSR has done a highly technical night hoist, including two on Vancouver Island.

Danks said the team’s skills are becoming further sharpened with each call.

“We’re getting into these different situations, and we’re adapting and pulling these calls off very safely,” he said, adding that  “proud” doesn’t begin to describe how Danks was feeling about the dedication and commitment of the team's volunteers.

The team has been called out 120 times so far in 2023.

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