Another hiker rescued at Mt. Baldy

by Mick Rhodes |

A 71-year-old hiker who slipped on ice and slid more than 50 feet into dangerous terrain at Mt. Baldy on Saturday was rescued quickly by helicopter, thanks in large part to a commercially available  satellite communication device.

San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Helicopter Air Rescue 306 hoisted injured Del Mar resident Abdollah Katbab, above the 8,000-foot level of Ice House Canyon Saturday morning after the hiker slipped while negotiating the area between Timber Mountain and Ice House Saddle.

The best-case outcome was aided by Katbab’s use of a Garmin InReach satellite communicator, which can send out SOS alerts, location information, and two-way messages regardless of whether a cell signal is available.

“The trail was extremely slippery from the icy conditions,” read a S.B. County Sheriff’s Department press release. “At some point while Katbab was on the trail, he slipped and fell approximately 50 feet. When Katbab came to a stop, the terrain was steep and icy and he did not feel he would be able to get back to the trail safely. He had a Garmin In Reach device and activated it. Through communication on the In Reach device, Katbab stated he received minor injuries to his arms.”

A view of Mt. Baldy looking north directly to the summit, taken January 30, 2023. The Devil’s Backbone trail along to the top edge of the photo is about 1,000 feet above Baldy Bowl, the site of several accidents and two fatalities involving hikers this winter. Courier photo/Peter Weinberger

The California Office of Emergency Services then notified the sheriff’s department’s volunteer forces unit to request a search and rescue. “Sheriff’s dispatch along with Sheriff’s Helicopter 40-KING-4, was notified of the incident,” read the release. “The crew of 40-KING-4 arrived in the area and began their search. Sheriff’s Helicopter Air Rescue 306 and crew, was at their hangar conducting training with technical ice rescue members. Due to the icy conditions on Mt. Baldy, the crew of Air Rescue 306 decided to head to the location as well, for a potential hoist rescue.

“As Air Rescue 306 arrived in the area, the crew of 40-KING-4 located Katbab at the 8,000’ level and confirmed that a hoist rescue would be needed. The crew of 40-KING-4 relayed to Air Rescue 306 that Katbab was still sliding from time-to-time but it appeared he was able to stop himself. Air Rescue 306 hovered above Katbab and lowered Technical Rescuer Lucy Durfee down to Katbab. Durfee was able to get stable footing with her crampons and other technical gear. Durfee made her way to Katbab and placed him into a rescue harness. Katbab was hoisted to the helicopter, followed by Durfee, then flown to San Antonio Dam, where paramedics took over medical treatment.”

Saturday’s dramatics follow last week’s rescue of Jin Chung, a 75-year-old North Hollywood man who was reported missing at Mt. Baldy at 6 a.m. Sunday, January 22. He was found safe the afternoon of Tuesday, January 24.

Meanwhile, the search continues for British actor Julian Sands, 65, who disappeared at Mt. Baldy on January 13, and Hawthorne resident Bob Gregory, 61, missing from the Crystal Lake area since January 16.

“Numerous ground and air search efforts have taken place,” the sheriff’s department said last week. “As of this time, Mr. Sands has not been found and no evidence of his current location has been discovered. The search will continue, weather and ground conditions permitting.”

Over the last six weeks S.B. County Sheriff’s search and rescue teams have responded to more than a dozen emergency calls at Mt. Baldy and the surrounding area for lost, stranded, and injured hikers. Two of those people did not survive. The Courier reported on the most recent death, of Crystal Paula Gonzalez-Landas, on January 10. Gonzalez-Landas died after falling down the more than 8,000-foot in elevation Baldy Bowl.

According to the sheriff’s office, “exposure to the elements and falls contribute to Mt. Baldy’s growing mortality rate and the risk of avalanches prolongs rescue efforts.

“From 2017-2022, search and rescue teams conducted 233 missions on Mt. Baldy, with eight fatalities. Within that time frame, volunteers have searched 27,277 hours on Mt. Baldy, which equates to $775,578 estimated value, determined by the Office of Emergency Services. From 2017-2022, sworn personnel and aviation support totaled 2,548 hours in service and $1.4 million in cost for Mt. Baldy rescue missions.”


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