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National park helicopter crew completes 3 dramatic rescues in a single day

The rescue helicopter hovers over Mount Rainier's Liberty Ridge during Sunday's retrieval of two injured climbers. (Photo from National Parks Service/Scotty Barrier)

A National Park Service helicopter team carried out three dramatic rescue missions in a single day over the weekend - one rescue in each of Washington state's three large national parks.

The first distress call came in at 9 a.m. Sunday, reporting an 18-year-old backpacker with respiratory distress in the northwest section of the North Cascades National Park wilderness.

By midday the clouds had lifted enough for the helicopter crew to get through to the hiker and hoist him aboard from the rugged terrain below. He was then flown to the hospital for treatment.

The pilot and crew then responded to Olympic National Park in the late afternoon to perform a medical evacuation of a 55-year-old man who had gotten lost after going out for a day hike on Tuesday - six days earlier.

Park rangers had hiked into the area on foot and found the man at about 2:30 a.m. Sunday. But the man was found to be too weak to travel, and the terrain proved very difficult for ground-based rescue. So the helicopter crew flew in and evacuated the man to a local hospital.

The final rescue of the day was inside Mount Rainier National Park, after park rangers received an emergency beacon activation from two injured climbers on Mount Rainier's Liberty Ridge.

The helicopter flew in and plucked the two injured women from a steep ridge at the 9,500-foot elevation of the mountain. Just before 9 p.m., the chopper landed back at its home base with the injured climbers.

The helicopter team was formed in 2015 at Mount Rainier National Park to assist climbing rangers with rescues, says Glenn Kessler, the park's aviation manager.

Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic national parks now share a dedicated short-haul rescue helicopter on contract for the summer season. The three parks train together and have worked to hone their communication to allow for the interoperability that proved so valuable on Sunday.

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