SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's Department of Public Safety said Monday it is seeing an unprecedented amount of helicopter rescues this summer-- from saving injured hikers, to recovering the bodies of civilians who died.
Last weekend alone, the DPS helicopter assisted on three calls. DPS said their helicopter has been called out 35 times since Memorial Day. That's nearly half of the 75 calls they usually see in an entire year.
"This is our busiest year on record," said Landon Middaugh, a Tactical Flight Officer who helps rescue stranded hikers.
Unified Police said they're on track for a record year as well. Just last week on July 5, their Search and Rescue team, along with Life Flight, saved a hiker who fell down an ice field and severed his foot.
“I was thinking, I’m going to die,” Casey Hunter said, recounting his experience.
Hunter said he prepared himself well with plenty of supplies for a half day hike, but he hiked alone and off of the trail. After Hunter reached the top of an ice field, he said he lost his footing. When he finally came to a stop, he said he found his foot dangling from his leg.
“I got to thinking about my pregnant wife, we’re going to have our first child," he said. The next thought he had: "Okay, what do I got to do?”
Crawling on one foot and his knee, Hunter climbed up to his phone, which lay smashed uphill. He eventually got in touch with Search and Rescue, and some time after that, they spotted him on the mountainside.
“I don’t know how he kept his balance carrying two huge bags, being lowered down on a hoist and landing on this super steep hill with rocks and everything," Hunter said, of the Search and Rescue crew member. "It was amazing to watch it all happen.”
Doctors are now assessing if his foot needs to be amputated. He said thanks to having cell service to call for help, and to the SAR and Life Flight team, he made it off the mountain.
"People doing that work is what saves your life," Hunter said.
A video shows a similar rescue on the Aspen Grove Trail in the Mount Timpanogos area on Sunday morning.
The DPS helicopter hoisted up a Utah County Sheriff's Office Volunteer, who was on the trail as part of the Timpanogos Emergency Response Team (TERT).
TERT, the Sheriff's Office explained, is made of up trained outdoor enthusiasts who hike up the trails on both sides of the mountain to assess conditions, and educate and help hikers by providing food, water and tips to stay safe.
Lieutenant Wally Perschon with Utah County said a team member slipped and fell on an ice field on Saturday.
"He went 100 yards total distance... He fell down 30 feet," Lt. Pershon explained.
Tactical Flight Officer Landon Middaugh was on the crew who responded at first light the next morning.
"The injured party was on the hillside all night long with two broken legs," he said.
With the wet winter, DPS said snow still covers many trails and that makes for tougher-than-normal conditions.
Plus, Middaugh said he thinks the rise in calls can be attributed to an uptick in tourists and locals heading outdoors.
"More people are coming to Utah to explore our back country, beautiful place. Everybody wants to explore, and just getting busier," he said.
Middaugh says there's always a crew on call to respond, just like he was last weekend when the TERT team member needed help.
"What makes me feel good is, just the relief," he said. "When you show up, and you're able to get them out of the situation that they're in."