Sheriff's Office: many involved in Mt. Shasta rescue attempt

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office reported that a 54 year old man from Iowa died after a fall down a steep slope on Mt. Shasta early Thursday, Aug. 11, while climbing with his 16 year old son.

The son called 9-1-1 at about 9:30 a.m. to report the fall from the top of Red Banks, at an elevation of approximately 12,820 feet, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release.

A California Air National Guard helicopter rescue mission that Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey described as “heroic” extracted James Martin Sieleman from the mountain, but he was pronounced dead by an on-board medic.

Because of concerns for the son’s well-being after witnessing his father’s fall and enduring several hours of adverse conditions at the 12,000 foot level, he was rescued by the Spartan 630 and flown to Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta to be reunited with family members.

Lopey praised the efforts of helicopter crews, and Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue and US Forest Service rescue climber personnel.

The Sheriff is quoted in the release saying, “This incident illustrates the dedication, training readiness, team work, and valor that is so often exhibited by federal, state, and local aircrews, search and rescue personnel, rescue climbers and others willing to risk their lives to save others. It is also comforting to know we have citizens that often place themselves in hazardous situations to help others in need. Although this rescue mission tragically did not result in a live recovery, it was a valiant effort and it is a great comfort knowing we can rely on the CHP, California Army National Guard, USFS Rescue Climbers, and SCSO SAR members, most of whom are volunteers, to respond to these types of challenging and often hazardous calls for service. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Sieleman, his family and friends in the aftermath of his tragic death.”

The Sheriff’s Office included the following details in the press release:

After learning from the son that his father had fallen 150 yards down a steep, rugged, ice-covered slope and appeared to be immobilized, Search and Rescue personnel were immediately deployed to the Bunny Flat trailhead.

Due to the remote location of the injured hiker and the time it would take to reach him – an estimated 6 1/2 hours – assistance was requested from the California Highway Patrol’s Northern Division Air Operations Unit. CHP’s rotary-wing aircraft was unavailable, so another call was relayed to CHP’s Valley Division for a rescue helicopter. The CHP’s H-24 helicopter responded immediately from their Auburn airbase.

Because of the hazardous location of the injured hiker, the high elevation, and environmental factors, a request was also made to the California Army National Guard through the California Office of Emergency Services for an additional helicopter. The Air National Guard “Spartan 630” later initiated an emergency response from Sacramento. It was manned by aircrew members Captain Chris Sandin, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Brandon Lynch, First Sergeant Tom Gifford, and Sergeant First Class Mike Ferguson.

At about 12 p.m., the CHP helicopter H-24 arrived on-scene at Bunny Flat, where Search and Rescue personnel were loaded and a mission to rescue the injured hiker by using the helicopter’s hoist mechanism was initiated shortly afterwards.

Prior to CHP’s H-24 departing from Bunny Flat, the SAR coordinator, Deputy Burns, made contact with a third party hiker who reached the injured man and determined he was still alive but non-responsive.

The CHP helicopter took off from Bunny Flat to attempt the rescue, but strong, gusty winds prevented launching a hoist rescue despite several attempts.

A short time later the Spartan 630 launched its successful mission and transported the deceased hiker to Mercy Mt. Shasta.

The Search and Rescue Coordinator requested that the Spartan 630 rescue the decedent’s 16-year-old son because of fears he could be in distress and his safety jeopardized if he had to descend the mountain from the 12,000 foot level.

The incident, according to the Sheriff’s Office, “highlights the fact that changing conditions on Mount Shasta, especially at higher elevations, often hamper hikers and rescue personnel. It is always a good idea to consult with the USFS website or visit their local Shasta-Trinity National Forest Ranger Offices in Mt. Shasta (204 West Alma, Mt. Shasta, CA; phone #530-926-4511 or McCloud (2019 Forest Road, McCloud, CA; phone #530-964-2184) to determine current information on climbing conditions.”

Information about mountain routes, special equipment, weather, special restrictions, special passes required, guide services in the area, and equipment rental options for Mt. Shasta climbing trips is available at: