How Golden Fire rescuers saved a woman whose leg was pinned by a 1,500-pound boulder

Posted at 4:37 PM, Apr 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-06 20:43:58-04

DENVER – It was called a “freak accident” by firefighters who were working the rescue at North Table Mountain early Thursday afternoon.

Now, a day after the daring event, Denver7 is learning more about how the rescue unfolded.

“This was a rare call,” Golden Fire Department spokesperson John Priestly told Denver7. “This was the first time that I can remember or have gone on a person who was stuck under a boulder.”

The initial call 

Priestly told Denver7 he received the call of the rescue at around 12:30 p.m., and was scouting the area for a “top-down rescue” and was told by a lieutenant that there was a five-by-two feet triangular-shaped boulder.

Once they got an estimate on what type of rock and how bit it was, they were able to estimate the weight of the boulder to be about 1,500 pounds.

Everything had to be hiked in

The hike from the trailhead to where the woman was injured was not easily accessible “by vehicle or rope,” according to Priestly, who said it took about 30 to 45 minutes to move all the equipment up the mountain. 

“It took around two hours to gather all of the gear and get it all set up to extricate the patient,” Priestly said.

‘Time is of the essence’

Priestly told Denver7 that rescue crews were trying to gage their different options, whether that meant landing a helicopter close by or land it where it eventually did at the top of the mesa.

“It’s critical to get them from point of injury to a higher echelon of care like a trauma center,” Priestly told Denver7. 

Almost every tool brought up to save woman

Rescue crews brought up “almost every tool we had in the rescue truck,” Priestly told Denver7.

Crews from other agencies were also packing up gear, such as a high-pressure air bag system, which are used mostly in car crashes and can be even lift the back of a bus, according to Priestly.

“The bag we used yesterday is rated for 15 tons, so we knew it would lift up the rock,” Priestly said.

Learn more about the high-pressure air bag system by watching the video above

Weather may have played a factor

The freezing and thawing that Colorado experiences as winter ends and spring begins could be to blame for the accident, Priestly said.

“As it warms during the day, water gets between the rocks and the cracks and then it freezes at night and when it melts the next day it’s pushing rocks away and they tumble down,” said Priestly.

While Priestly said they weren’t sure that’s exactly what happened, it’s “a pretty good bet that the rocks were just lose due to the freezing and thawing.”

Quick response saved woman’s life

The woman, who was visiting from Europe and was in Colorado for a conference, was pinned under the boulder at the same time off-duty paramedics from Littleton were out hiking when they saw the woman’s friend running for help, according to Golden firefighters.

The paramedics were on scene quickly and called 911, which firefighters said helped the woman's outcome.

After surveying the trail, officials decided not to close the area since there didn't appear to be any immediate safety concerns.


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