An off-duty US air force flight instructor braved strong winds, hail and slippery conditions to rescue a fellow climber who had fallen about 80ft (24.4 meters) down a slippery slope at Yosemite national park this past Labor Day weekend, according to the military branch.
Joshua Haveman’s valiant actions not only earned him a hero’s praise from his air force colleagues – but they also prevented another hiking tragedy from occurring after the last few months have seen multiple hikers lose their lives amid a range of perilous conditions.
Haveman, a captain by rank, was making an attempt to summit Yosemite’s Half Dome on 2 September 2023 when the emergency he helped resolve unfolded.
Capt Joshua Haveman stands in front of training mannequins at Travis air force base on 23 September 2023. Photograph: Senior Airman Lauren Jacoby/60th air mobility wing public affairs
The Half Dome summit stands at 8,842ft (2.7 kilometers). And Haveman was within the final 400ft (122 meters) when he noticed a fellow climber fall amid the dreary, chilly conditions.
Haveman watched as the climber plummeted about 80ft and landed on a ledge that measured only about 6ft (1.8 meters) by 1.5ft (0.4 meters). That space was the only thing separating the climber from another fall of at least 500ft (152 meters).
The flight instructor at California’s Travis air force base wasted no time trying to reach the fallen climber, though parts of that section of the Half Dome require hikers to negotiate difficult granite surfaces. Haveman ventured beyond permanent cable barriers that are placed to give climbers added safety and leverage in hopes of approaching the distressed climber, which he managed to do while bringing a first aid kit along.
“Other climbers were concerned for my safety, but the guy was just … there screaming in pain,” Haveman told officials at the Travis base, about a four-hour drive from the Half Dome. “So I left the cable area and climbed on the ledge.”
It soon became apparent to Haveman why the fallen hiker was screaming: his legs were mangled.
The climber awaits evacuation at Yosemite national park on 2 Sept 2023. Photograph: Senior Airman Lauren Jacoby/60th air mobility wing public affairs
“You could see that his legs were not naturally oriented at all,” Haveman said.
Haveman had gathered sticks on the way to the injured climber. He fashioned them into makeshift splints and then used them to secure the hiker above and below his lower leg break.
Haveman also wrapped the hiker’s injured ankle in a bandage and used his own jacket to cover him, shielding him from the harsh elements and staving off apparent shock.
From there, Haveman arranged for a call to be placed to the park ranger’s station. His clear communication about his and the wounded climber’s position in the park helped emergency responders find them, air force officials said.
A park ranger specializing in search and rescue operations soon arrived. The ranger and Haveman helped the injured hiker descend a cable ladder before another emergency responder arrived with a full medical bag, including higher-quality splints.
Meanwhile, the weather improved, and more climbers arrived to help improvise a pulley system which helped the wounded hiker complete the descent. A helicopter crew eventually arrived to fly the hiker out of the area and to the emergency care he needed at that point.
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Climbers and a Yosemite park ranger flag down a helicopter for a medical evacuation on 2 September 2023. Photograph: Senior Airman Lauren Jacoby/60th air mobility wing public affairs
Haveman credited his ability to respond effectively to a life-or-death situation to his prior climbing experience as well as his training in a type of first aid known as tactical combat casualty care. He said he was also glad he kept his guard up given how badly the conditions had deteriorated late in his attempt to summit the Half Dome.
“I knew people were going to be in trouble as soon as I topped the hill because it was cold and windy and people were getting desperate trying to come down,” Haveman said.
Not every close call on such excursions has a happy outcome. On 23 September, a 61-year-old woman hiking along the Blue Ridge parkway in North Carolina died after plunging about 150ft off a waterfall overlook.
A woman died in August after falling off a mountain during a hike in Wyoming’s Grand Teton national park. A porter died in July after falling during an ascent of K2, the world’s second-highest mountain.
In June, a teenage boy died after falling ill as he hiked in dangerously high temperatures of 119F (48.3C) during a visit to south-west Texas’s Big Bend national park. Then the boy’s stepfather was killed after he crashed his car during a desperate search for help.
Another teenage boy in August survived falling 100ft from a ledge at the Grand Canyon. Having received hospital treatment for his injuries, the teen said in an interview that he realized he had been “inches away from death”.
This article was amended on 7 and 9 October 2023. An earlier version of the main image showed Liberty Cap mountain, rather than Half Dome.