July 4, 2013

Daring Katahdin helicopter rescue was unprecedented

An injured hiker is lifted off the Maine mountain in a full-body 'screamer suit.'

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Ned Hamara, the 62-year-old Texas hiker rescued by heicopter off Mount Katahdin on Monday after a boulder fell on him, recovers at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor on Wednesday.

Photo courtesy Community Relations / Eastern Maine Medical Center. Video courtesy of Dana Francey.

click image to enlarge

A 62-year-old Texas man is shown being airlifted off a hiking trail on Mount Katahdin on July 1 after a large rock fell on him. He is recovering at a Bangor hospital.

Photo by Jensen Bissell

Ten days later, he was back on the trail, maneuvering his backpack hip belt so that it didn't press against his incision.

Hamara retired from law enforcement in 2001 -- his trail name is NedtheFed -- and a few years later connected with a friend who was planning to hike the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Katahdin.

"I got the hiker bug," he said.

He hiked his first sections of the Appalachian Trail in 2005, and did long sections in other years.

This year, he planned to join a friend for the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. He got a campsite at the Katahdin Springs Campground for June 30 and July 1, Sunday and Monday.

Sunday night, the forecast was iffy for the Katahdin climb, the start of a hike that he planned to take as far as Pennsylvania.

"There was supposed to be a cold front coming in and we didn't know how it was going to affect the weather," he said. "We were up at 4 a.m. We waited around until about 6 a.m. It looked pretty good and there were other hikers headed up."

They signed in at the trailhead for the Hunt Trail at 5:58 a.m. on Monday.

The trail turns steep quickly, and walking becomes work.

"I knew the climb up Katahdin was going to be brutal for both of us. It just starts out nothing but rocks," Hamara said. "It's just a continuous climb of rocks."

Hamara's companion went ahead.

"Being the iron man he is, he took off and I never saw him again. He was too excited and jacked up and ready to hike," he said.

Hamara was above the tree line by 9 a.m. He came to a steep, challenging section, ascending about 20 yards. A younger hiker passed him and scurried up the face.

"They've got all the cartilage in their knees and can scamper anything," Hamara said.

That hiker was Francey, who is 25 and has been a nurse for a year.

"I had come up to a part I remember being the most challenging part of the mountain," Francey said. "(Hamara) was having trouble getting up this pretty steep rock face.

"I turned around to watch him. He started sliding and I reached out my hand. A couple seconds later this big giant boulder slid out" as Hamara grabbed it, he said. "It happened quick."

The boulder seemed like a logical thing to grab.

"It's kind of part of the trail. I used it on my way up," Francey said. "I think everybody has to, where it is. It must be loose from the winter."

Hamara said there was little he could do when the rock gave way.

"As soon as I heard the crunch of rock breaking, I kind of turned on my back and the boulder pushed me down the incline on my left side," he said. "The boulder probably went about 10 to 12 feet and stopped."

He and Francey sat for a while, the rock perched precariously above them. Hamara was lightheaded and couldn't stand right away. Before they left, they affixed a note to the boulder, warning hikers not to rely on it for support.

The mishap occurred 1,000 feet above the 3,000-foot tree line, said Baxter State Park Chief Canger Ben Woodard.

Hamara and Francey started down the mountain.

As Hamara pulled himself through a narrow opening where the trail passes under a large boulder, his shoulder popped out.

(Continued on page 3)

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