Air rescue at popular South Okanagan climbing spot

A helicopter had to be called in to the Skaha Bluffs in Penticton to rescue an injured climber on Thursday afternoon. Global News/File

A woman in her 20s had to be airlifted out of a popular climbing area in the South Okanagan on Thursday afternoon.

Penticton Search and Rescue (PENSAR) crews received the call at the Skaha Bluffs near Penticton at 4:40 p.m.

“We got a call from the emergency co-ordination centre in Victoria that a climber in the Skaha Bluffs area had suffered a fall with some lower-body injuries,” PENSAR manager Randy Brown told Global News.

Read more: UPDATED: Rescuers save woman who fell into cave at Skaha Bluffs

Nineteen members, along with three rescue trucks, responded to the scene.

The rescue required PENSAR’s long-line helicopter team, as the injured climber was trapped in a deep canyon.

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“We lowered two technicians down into the canyon area with the assistance of the Penticton Fire Department,” said Brown.

“The person was packaged, she was removed via air lift out to the local parking lot at Skaha Bluffs and transferred over to British Columbia Health Services.”

The chopper rescue was fairly quick, according to Brown, with everything wrapped up just after 6 p.m.

Read more: Kelowna man dies in popular Skaha Lake cliff jumping area

He said utilizing air resources when a patient is in a hard-to-access area isn’t just beneficial to the injured person, but also to search crews, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s quick and also reduces the stress on the teams as well, especially with COVID right now,” he said.

“You have a whole bunch of protocols around face masks and protection material and stuff like that, so you can imagine when it’s hot out, having to be masked up and you’re exerting yourself quite a bit. It adds another level to the SAR team.”

Brown said PENSAR is exteremely busy right now responding to calls for help.

“COVID is our No. 1 contributor,” Brown said. “I think we’ve got people that have been holed up for so long, and we’ve got people that are going out into the outdoors, in the wilderness areas probably in numbers that we haven’t seen in quite some time.”

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Read more: B.C. search-and-rescue crews see spike in calls, face new dangers amid COVID-19

While the numbers have yet to be compiled, Brown said it’s been a very busy June for rescue operations.

“One week in June, we had eight tasks in one week, call outs,” he said. “That’s probably the busiest we’ve ever been in one single week.”

And with Phase 3 in B.C.’s restart plan nearing, which allows for non-essential travel, Brown said he does not expect things to slow down anytime soon.

That has the emergency responder advising those venturing out into the backcountry to always be prepared.

“Everybody can do their part,” Brown said. “Nobody plans on having an accident or getting lost or disoriented, we just want people to use the words “be mindful”. If I’m going somewhere, do I have the tools to be able to contact people to help me but do I have the tools to tell them where I am so little bit of trip planning before I go. ”



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