Chris Flood 6/13/91
off Flattop cliff"
By Scott Reeves and David Futch, Times 6/14/91
"He just got away from me". A 9-year-old boy wandered away from his family during a picnic Thursday at Flattop Mountain and plunged 300 feet down a steep cliff onto the rocks below. Chris Flood was plucked from the side of the mountain by an Air National Guard rescue team and flown to Providence Hospital in Anchorage, where he was listed in critical condition with severe head injuries and a broken pelvis late Thursday.
"He just got away from me," the boy's father, Jim Flood, said after the Rabbit Creek Elementary third-grader had been air lifted to the hospital. "He went over the edge when I went after the other two kids." The boy's sister, Jennifer, 7, said she was hiking down the 3,510-foot mountain with her dog, Dusty, and a boy they met on the hike when her brother disappeared. "He just fell off," Jennifer said. "I didn't see it happen - I was coming down and Chris went a different way. I don't know if he left the trail or not." The trail on the upper parts of the mountain, while well-traveled, is not clearly marked. Chugach State Park is wild, and there are no steps, handrails or warning signs near the cliffs. The rescue took about two hours after rescuers were first notified at 12:45 p.m.
Steep, rugged terrain in the park made rescue difficult. "We're racing the clock on this one," a rescuer said on the radio, after initial attempts to pick up the boy failed. Steep terrain prevented a Providence Hospital helicopter from rescuing the boy. A much larger and more powerful Air National Guard helicopter hovered 25 to 50 feet from the northwest side of the mountain. Paramedic Steve Lupenski was lowered on a steel cable to assist Alaska State Troopers, Anchorage firefighters and park rangers already on the ground with the boy. A red flare burning next to a large patch of snow marked the spot where the boy landed after the fall. Capt. Riff Patton, a member of the 210th Air Rescue Squadron who flew the Air National Guard's helicopter, said cross winds can be tricky at the higher elevations, but were not dangerous Thursday. "We were lucky," Patton said. "We have the hoist, and that's where we shine in a situation like this. But anytime you have to use the hoist, it can be considered somewhat difficult."
The boy's father climbed into the ravine where the boy landed and stayed with him until he was airlifted to the hospital. The father then boarded another helicopter and was flown to the hospital to be with his son. On the trail leading up the mountain, hikers watched the rescue through binoculars. A steady stream of hikers, including a young mother carrying her infant, climbed the mountain as rescue efforts continued. Boys scampered through the rocky terrain, but stopped and shielded their eyes against the sun each time the helicopter flew over. A few stood close to the side of the mountain and watched the helicopter hover above the injured child. The Air National Guard rescue team lowered a litter to the ground, and rescuers fought for footing in the loose rock as they grabbed it. After paramedics checked the boy one last time, he was strapped into the basket and hoisted into the helicopter. The ground member of the Guard rescue team was then picked up, and the sound of the whirring blades ricochet off the mountain as the helicopter flew to Providence Hospital. The helicopter reached Providence Hospital at 3 p.m. The boy, strapped to a backboard, was taken to the emergency room. The boy's family met with the hospital chaplain. Chief Ranger Jerry Lewanski said there is generally at least 1 one major rescue each year at the 500,000 acre park. "This was a tough one because a child was involved and the father was there," Lewanski said.
In 1987, a 15-year-old Anchorage boy plunged 100 feet to his death. Andrew Lekisch, a cross country runner at West High School, was training with friends in an area called theWedge about four miles southeast of Flattop Mountain when he decided to take a shortcut. His friends heard screams and Lekisch was gone.
There were more screams Thursday. Joanne Stephenson, an Anchorage resident who climbed the mountain Thursday to celebrate her 41st birthday, said she met a frantic woman coming down the mountain shortly after noon. "She was yelling, 'Help! Help!,' so we got a hold of her and she seemed to be in shock," Stephenson said. "She said, 'Does anyone know extensive first aid? We have an injured boy who has fallen off a cliff and needs help.' We just watched - there was nothing we could do." Jennifer Flood was escorted down the mountain by two hikers. "I spoke to her father," said Nat Weintraub. "He said to take her back to the parking lot." In the parking lot, emergency equipment stood by, but was not needed. The Alaska Mountain Rescue Group, a non-profit or organization made up of experienced climbers, was called by the Alaska State Troopers, was not needed. Anchorage firefighter Gary Bullock, a member of the team that treated the boy on the ground, carried his emergency gear down the mountain after the boy had been flown to the hospital. The equipment appeared to become more of a burden with each step. Bullock shook his head. "Things can turn bad quick on the mountain," he said.
Note: Chris Flood died 6/13/91.