Hiker stranded for five days on False Cape rescued by Coast Guard

MCKINLEYVILLE, Calif. – The Coast Guard rescued a stranded hiker from a beach north of Cape Mendocino, Calif., today.

The hiker, a 50-year-old man, apparently fell from a cliff onto the beach on Sunday and survived for five days without food and water until a local fisherman spotted him on the beach and called the Coast Guard.

The fishing vessel Nanbellis Jo was working in the area when the crew spotted a person on the beach signaling the fishing boat by waving frantically. They also saw that the word “HELP” had been drawn into the sand. The Nanbellis Jo immediately called the Coast Guard as the man appeared to attempt to enter the surf and swim toward the fishing boat.

The Coast Guard launched a 47-foot Motor Lifeboat from Station Humboldt Bay and an MH-65C Dolphin helicopter from Air Station Humboldt Bay to the scene. The helicopter was returning from a search-and-rescue case on the Trinity River at the time the Nanbellis Jo reported the missing hiker to the Coast Guard.

The helicopter refueled at the Arcata Airport and then proceeded to the location reported by the Nanbellis Jo which had remained at the scene. Arriving at the beach area just north of False Cape, the helicopter, with help from the Nanbellis Jo, quickly located the man and prepared to pick him up using the helicopter’s rescue basket.

“Based on the initial report, we thought the man was ambulatory, but when we prepared to lower the rescue basket, the man started sliding through the sand on his backside,” said Lt. j.g. George Suchanek, the pilot of the helicopter. “We quickly determined that it was unlikely that the man could get himself into the rescue basket, and we decided to deploy the rescue swimmer to assess the condition of the hiker.”

The rescue swimmer was lowered to the beach and called the helicopter using a hand-held radio. The swimmer told the helicopter that the man would need to be lifted from the beach on a rescue litter and that he had been there since he fell off a cliff Sunday. The rescue basket is not the ideal rescue device for persons with leg or back injuries, and the rescue litter is similar to a hospital stretcher, modified for hoisting by aircraft.

The helicopter departed the scene to return to Air Station Humboldt Bay to refuel and pick up a rescue litter. While the helicopter was transiting back to the Air Station for the litter, the rescue swimmer assessed the hiker’s injuries and administered first aid and treated the man for symptoms of exposure.

The helicopter returned to the scene and lowered the litter to the rescue swimmer. The swimmer maneuvered the man into the device and prepared him to be hoisted aboard the helicopter.

Once the hiker and the rescue swimmer were safely aboard the helicopter, the aircraft flew to St. Joseph’s Memorial Hospital in Eureka, Calif., and transferred the patient to waiting emergency room personnel.

“If it weren’t for the observant crew of the Nanbellis Jo, and a little bit of good luck, it is unlikely this case would have a happy ending,” said Lt. Todd Vorenkamp, co-pilot of the helicopter. “The Nanbellis Jo crew deserves credit for saving this man’s life.”

The Coast Guard recommends that all hikers and mariners inform family and friends of their plans when going to sea or hiking remote trails. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back so that if an accident occurs, they can contact authorities and let them know you are missing. Also, it is highly recommended to pack survival gear and be prepared for any eventuality and have multiple ways of signaling for help if needed, including cellular phones, radios, signal mirrors, flares, etc.

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