Woman dies after she and her dog were rescued on Mt. Shasta on New Year's Day
A woman, found walking with her small dog in the snow on Mt. Shasta, died hours after the California Highway Patrol rescued her.
She succumbed to injuries caused by hypothermia, according to the CHP Search and Rescue team who flew the woman to a hospital after a tricky ridge rescue.
The woman, whose name and age have not yet been released, wasn't dressed properly for the freezing and blustery conditions, said Daniel Gallagher, the CHP flight officer on the rescue.
Gallagher, pilot Brian Henderson and officer Jim Irwin responded to the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office request for help just after 2 p.m. on Jan. 1.
Deputies received a 911 call about the woman "huddled up in a fetal position" in the snow from a couple skiing in the back country, Gallagher said.
She was wandering on the south side of the mountain near the Old Ski Bowl, located at the end of Everitt Memorial Highway, Mount Shasta Ambulance owner Angelo Banos said.
Gallagher and his team flew out of Benton Airport in Redding while deputies went to Bunny Flat, a couple of miles from the Old Ski Bowl.
“The couple provided a GPS pin where they were.” Gallagher said, but it still took time to find them in the heavy snow.
Between 2:30 and 2:45 p.m., Gallagher's team spotted the couple waving their coats at the helicopter at a point east of Horse Camp cabin. They were along the ridge between the Old Ski Bowl and Avalanche Gulch ― 8,500 feet up.
"The terrain was too steep for the helicopter to land, so the pilot balanced it on one skid on the snow while officer Irwin" hiked through "knee-deep snow" to get to the woman," Gallagher said.
Her eyes were open, but she wasn’t moving. She appeared disoriented, he said. “Hypothermia is a serious injury. One of the first things to go is your mentation.”
The couple who called 911 helped move the woman 50 yards to the balancing helicopter, Gallagher said. “It’s very difficult" in that altitude and snow depth "to move without skies or a sled.”
The woman "could barely sit up" in the helicopter, he said. "She was very underprepared for winter weather. Her clothing was definitely not appropriate: A fleece-type coat, leggings and UGG boots."
The temperature in the area was 19 degrees at noon on Jan. 1, but 8 mph winds made it feel like 9 degrees, according to meteorologist Ryan Sandler at the National Weather Service in Medford. Peak winds that day reached 78 mph at 10 a.m., although first responders don't know how long the woman was exposed to the cold.
One of the skiers tucked the white curly-haired dog into her coat and skied down to Bunny Flat where she turned the dog over to police, according to Gallagher and Mount Shasta Police Department spokesperson Amber Orrey. It was healthy and survived.
The CHP team flew the woman to the helipad at Mercy Medical Center in Mount Shasta.
Banos' team was waiting in the parking lot.
"By the time we got to her, she was unresponsive," Banos said.
The woman died hours later from complications due to hypothermia, according to a coroner's report, the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office said.
The sheriff's office is withholding the woman's identity and town of residence.
Gallagher estimated the CHP's Northern Division Air Operations flies 30 missions per year to pull injured people off Mt. Shasta. Annual totals depend on the seriousness of winter storms and other weather conditions.
Some of those rescues might not have happened if those rescued had proper gear and planned in advance, Gallagher said. “Every year we get several rescues of people who underestimate the conditions on the mountain.”
To check daily conditions on Mt. Shasta go to the Mount Shasta Avalanche Center website at shastaavalanche.org, the Mt. Shasta Ski Park's website at skipark.com and the weather service's Medford office website at weather.gov/mfr.
Jessica Skropanic is a features reporter for the Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. She covers science, arts, social issues and entertainment stories. Follow her on Twitter@RS_JSkropanic and onFacebook. Join Jessica in the Get Out! Nor Cal recreation Facebook group. To support and sustain this work,please subscribe today. Thank you.