OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — The sound of a .45- caliber pistol fired by a stranded, injured hiker in Olympic National Park alerted searchers to his location in a canyon clearing hidden by trees, park officials and the hiker said Thursday.
Tim Bailey, 32, of Mountlake Terrace, said he fired his pistol intermittently from Monday until he was found Wednesday and hoisted out of the ravine by helicopter.
He started with 14 rounds.
“I have five left,” Bailey said in a telephone interview as he and his wife, Whitney, 31, drove home Thursday.
Bailey, who was reported overdue Sunday, was found at the bottom of a ravine near the North Fork of the Sol Duc River suffering from a broken ankle that he splinted with foam from his backpack and strips of fabric from his tent.
An experienced hiker, he was on a three-day hike when he tried to traverse the wall of a drainage ravine late Saturday afternoon, slipped on loose dirt, and tumbled 150 feet down the ravine, landing in a small clearing near a creek.
Although he broke his ankle in his head-over-heels descent, he may have been prevented from more serious injuries by a sleeping pad he secured behind his neck 30 seconds before his long slide to the bottom, he said.
“I ended up having some cushioning for my head,” he recalled.
“For the first 20 feet, I thought, `OK, I can do that.’ Then I said, `OK, Jesus help me.”’
Bailey tried grabbing trees but rotated away as he gathered speed.
“Then I just gave a serious prayer to God and said, ‘Help me.’ I had a sense of peace. I said, ‘If this is death, I’ll be fine. I know I’m in God’s hands’.
“I thought of so many things,” he added.
“It was one of those moments where your sense of time kind of stands still, and a lot of things kind of get packed into whatever period of time that was.”
He landed on a 10-foot-wide clearing near a creek, splinted his ankle — he kept his tarp for shelter — and gathered wood for a fire he kept constantly stoked.
Bailey had brought a lighter, matches and extra food.
He built a bed with bark and moss.
On Wednesday, rescuers on the ground heard what sounded like a gunshot and directed a HiLine Helicopters aircraft, with National Park Service personnel on board, to the area where the noise came from, park spokeswoman Rainey McKenna said.
Searchers located Bailey at 3:35 p.m. Saturday by detecting smoke from the fire, she said.
It is legal to carry firearms in the park but illegal to discharge them inside the park for any reason, she said.
“If you are legally licensed to carry a firearm in Washington, it is legal to carry it in the park,” McKenna said.
The punishment for firing a weapon can be up to six months in jail and $5,000.
“Charges could be pressed against someone, but it is unlikely if they are in a dire situation,” she said.
“In this situation, it was a very dire situation, and he used his weapon as a last resort. A whistle would have worked just as well,” McKenna added.
Bailey had recently take a four-day defensive handgun class.
“Knowing I’d be in the wild, I brought it,” he said.
“I figured the only reason I would fire this would be an emergency, and I’d rather spend time in a small cell with three squares than not come home.”
Bailey’s rescuers finally saw him on their third pass through about a 20-foot hole in the tree canopy, Bailey said.
“It was an extremely emotional time of just yelling out prayer that they’d see me,” Bailey said.
He said his 2-year-old son, Seamus, is fascinated with helicopters. The couple also has a son, 7, and a daughter, 5.
Little Seamus calls helicopters “good guys.”
“When I heard that helicopter, I was far more excited than he’s ever been,” Bailey said.
The Coast Guard crew dropped lines through the trees and lifted him to safety, he said.
He was hoisted to the aircraft at about 6 p.m. Saturday, McKenna said.
About 20 personnel from the Park Service took part in the rescue operation, and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island had launched a helicopter to assist in the effort.
The Baileys visited Park Service and Coast Guard officials in Port Angeles Thursday to thank them.
Larry Bailey, Tim’s father, was an Olympic National Park consultant in 2000 when he helped develop the risk management plan under which the search took place, Tim Bailey said.
Whitney Bailey reported her husband missing Sunday night.
The search began Tuesday.
Park service personnel tried to contact Bailey on Monday and left notes on his vehicle, which was parked at the Aurora Ridge trailhead, and at other trailheads in the area.
By the time Bailey was headed home Thursday, he had contacted his father.
“I called him up and said, ‘You owe me four rounds I wasted on Monday when nobody was looking for me.’”
Whitney Bailey was still in “a little bit of emotional shock,” she said.
“I’m going to take my husband home and have my husband and babies under one roof and start emotionally processing this,” she said.