Many more searches and rescues: First responders are busy

The sheriff’s office this year has had 330 calls for search and rescue in Snohomish County.

INDEX — With COVID-19 keeping everyone cooped up, trailheads and waterways have been congested as people look to escape to the outdoors. Crowds have packed some of the county’s hottest destinations, and Snohomish County Search and Rescue has been inundated with calls for help.

Since January 1, the sheriff’s office has responded to 330 calls for search and rescue in Snohomish County. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Courtney O’Keefe said that in the same time span in 2019, the county received approximately 280 calls, and in the years prior it was closer to 200.

A pair of rescues in east Snohomish County on Aug. 27 are just two examples of the extraordinarily busy summer search-and-rescue teams are having.

At 10 a.m. that day, Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue launched the helicopter SnoHawk 10 to extract a hiker that slipped on a log and seriously injured his shoulder near Mica Lake.

A few hours later, the crew was called to a popular climbing location outside Index to extract a woman who suffered head and possible spinal injuries in a fall.

Chief Pilot Bill Quistorf flew both rescue attempts last week, alongside Deputy Einar Espeland and three Snohomish County Helicopter Rescue Team volunteers. He said he has definitely seen a noticeable uptick in work this year.

“The biggest thing is just not to take any undue risk,” Quistrof said to those looking to traverse the county’s wilderness. Accidents happen, but he said being aware can keep you alive.

The pilot said high winds, tall trees, dangerous terrain and severe injuries heightened the difficulty of the response outside of Index.

“Index Town Wall presents some non-typical hazards that we normally don’t deal with in the mountains,” Quistorf said.

In a coordinated response with Sky Valley Fire, rescuers moved the injured climber 100 yards so she could safely be extracted. No update was available Friday on the climber’s condition.

In aerial rescue attempts, Quistorf said, he learned early on that urgency clouds decision making, so he and the crew step back, evaluate the situation and approach each rescue deliberately.

Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office helicopters parked at the agency’s search-and-rescue headquarters near Snohomish. (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)

Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office helicopters parked at the agency’s search-and-rescue headquarters near Snohomish. (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)

“If there had been any stronger winds, I wouldn’t be able to hold position overhead,” Quistorf said. “It really does take a lot of practice and experience to be able to pull that off and have the confidence in the aircraft.”

Snohomish County is one of four in the state with assets to perform backcountry, mountainous rescues in only a few hours, he said.

“Our county is really fortunate to have the capabilities we do have with the rescue helicopter and the smaller search helicopter,” Quistorf said.

For those planning to do backcountry hiking, Quistorf said, carrying a personal locator beacon can help rescuers reach you should disaster occur.

Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448;; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.

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