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Mountain Top Death Challenges Sheriff's Helicopter Crew

San Diego Sheriff's Bell 407 helicopter. Rocky Laws photo.On a recent November evening the San Diego Sheriff's patrol helicopter and crew were called upon to assist with a possible suicidal subject at the summit of Iron Mountain, near Poway Ca. 

The Iron Mountain Peak is a very popular hike in San Diego County due to it's close proximity to civilization, and the fact that it is a moderate hike that can be accomplished in about 3-4 hours.  From the parking area to the peak is about 5.6 miles round trip, and a 1,000 foot rise in elevation.  The Iron Mountain summit is 2684' msl.  On any given morning one can find 20-30 cars parked at the trail head off of Hwy 67. 

On this particular evening the Sheriff's Communications Center received a call from a subject who advised that there was a body at the summit on Iron Mountain.  There was something about the conversation that lead the dispatcher to suspect that the subject was reporting his own death.  The dispatcher asked the caller if he was the body, and the caller indicated that he was.  At some point the call was lost, and the Sheriff's patrol helicopter was launched. 

A short time later the night crew arrived at the mountain's summit in their Bell 407 helicopter, to discover a single male at the only picnic table on the mountain.  The subject was non responsive to the presence of the helicopter, the spot light, or the PA announcements from the crew.  No weapon could be seen, and there was no way to assess the subject's medical status from the helicopter.  Also, there was no LZ at the summit suitable for landing the larger, 7 passenger, Bell 407. 

In addition to airborne law enforcement, sheriff's helicopter crews often find themsevles at the center of coordinating people and resources in order to accomplish the mission at hand.  This helicopter crew was suddenly faced with the challenge of getting the right people and resources to the top of the mountain, in the darkness, in order to assess the subject's condition and bring the matter to a safe conclusion.  In a typical situation such as this, law enforcement almost always enters the scene first, secures any weapons and makes the scene safe for medical personnel to enter and render aid to the victim. 

In this case the crew set about coordinating with the responding ground units, San Diego Fire Rescue Helicopter (Copter 1) and eventually the Medical Examiner Investigator.  The first responding ground deputy was picked up and flown to a Cal-Fire LZ equipped with a metal landing pad, located about half way between the parking area and the mountain summit.  From here the TFO and the ground deputy began the one hour hike to the summit. 

At the same time the pilot coordinated with San Diego Fire Rescue to conduct a night hoist operation once the scene at the summit was deemed safe.  San Diego Fire Rescue would insert a paramedic to assess the victim and provide medical attention if necessary.

Upon reaching the summit the responding TFO and deputy found that the subject was indeed suffering from an apparent self inflicted gunshot wound, and a weapon was recovered.  The San Diego Fire Rescue Helicopter lowered their paramedic who assessed the victim and found no signs of life.  Now began the wait for the Medical Examiner Investigator to respond. 

Once the M.E. Investigator arrived at the trail head parking area, she too was picked up and flown to the Cal-Fire LZ.  She then began the one hour hike to the summit, accompanied by the pilot.  At the conclusion of her on scene investigation the victim was prepared for transport by helicopter.

The San Diego Fire Rescue Helicopter responded back to the scene and conducted a basket lift of the victim, who was then transferred to M.E. personnel waiting at the trail head.  Finally, the helicopter crew, ground deputy, and M.E. Investigator could begin their hike back to the Cal-Fire LZ and their return flight to the trail head.   

This incident is another excellent example of the vital role helicopters play in modern law enforcement and public safety.  Not only do helicopters save lives, but they solve problems. Even with the assistance of two helicopters, this incident took almost 6 hours to resolve.  Excellent job Deputies Joyce and Kaupe and thanks to San Diego Fire Rescue for their assistance!

Do you know what to do if you suspect someone is suicidal?  Learn more by following this link, suicide prevention.