If you enjoy walking the canyons of Los Angeles County, you’ve likely watched a helicopter or two sweep in to rescue fellow hikers who have overestimated their climbing skills. While most of us stick to the designated trails, others like to venture off into the great unknown. This sometimes leads to dramatic, white-knuckled moments of hikers clinging to cliff sides, unable to move up or down.
Fortunately, the Los Angeles County Sheriff has us covered. The above rescue was performed by L.A. County Sheriff’s Special Enforcement Bureau Emergency Services Detail (SEB-ESD) Air Rescue 5. Dangling from the cable is Deputy Sheriff Mark Desmarteau, who rescued these two hikers on September 11, 2011 in the Knife Ridge section of Eaton Canyon.
We spoke with team member Lieutenant Jack W. Ewell about the daring rescue and how the public can avoid a similar meet-and-greet with an L.A. County Sheriff.
Can you tell us how this couple got into this situation?
The two were hiking when the women apparently fell into the area. She’s just hanging on by her fingertips, unable to go up or down. Fortunately, thanks to her rescue, she’s okay. A couple minutes later, she would have lost her grip. The fact she fell from a non-established trail definitely contributed to her situation.
Tell us about Air Rescue 5 and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Emergency Services Detail.
The ESD employs 22 full-time men and women and seven pilots, with a team on duty 24-hours a day. In addition, there are 150 reserve Search and Rescue deputies on eight teams. All air rescues are done in conjunction with members of the ground teams.
The ESD also functions as a FEMA asset. It’s been called on many times to offer its services in California and across the nation, as done with Hurricane Katrina.
What kind of training is involved to be on the team?
It’s extensive and takes around 18 months to become operational. The unit’s members are special weapons team members and are trained and certified in the following areas: SWAT/tactical operations, mountain/rural rescue, ocean/swift water rescue, Sea King air rescue crew members and Public Safety divers. Each of the members is also a licensed paramedic.
How common are rescues performed by the ESD?
They are very common if you consider we cover all of Los Angeles County’s 4,084 square miles. We perform several hundred a year.
How can people stay safe while hiking?
Keep out of areas you are not prepared to enter. Be sure to dress appropriately with good hiking boots. Check the weather and make sure you are dressed for it. And don’t try to make your own trails. If you stay on the established ones, you’re much less likely to meet us.
Photo courtesy of the L.A. County Sheriff's Emergency Service Detail.