Fernie Search and Rescue were called out last Monday to rescue a competitor in this year’s Tour Divide – a mountain bike race from Banff to New Mexico spanning over 2,700 miles.
One of the competitors, a 24-year-old man from Ohio, lost control on a bridge in the Wigwam area near the U.S. border due to faulty bike equipment. He fell of the bridge on his bike, struck his head on a rock, smashing his bike helmet in the process. Two other competitors helped him out of the river and gave him some dry clothing. After being assured by the man that he would use his emergency SPOT device to call for help, the helping competitors continued on, stopping at Roosville to inform border guards of the incident.
RCMP called Fernie Search and Rescue (SAR) after being notified of the alert at the border and began searching for the man. After two hours searching by helicopter, SAR members returned to Fernie to refuel and ask local chiropractor Dr. Paul Attalla to join the search. A former Tour Divide competitor, Attalla was able to more effectively direct the search efforts.
The man was eventually located high on a pass above the U.S. Border, pushing his bike in a severe rainstorm. He had suffered severe head trauma.
“We are very grateful to Paul Attalla who dropped everything at his clinic to come help an injured competitor,” said Simon Piney, field leader for the rescue. “Had we not found this man before nightfall, it may have ended very differently.”
The man had been spotted earlier in the search, but failed to signal for assistance despite a low level hover by the helicopter to assess if he was in need of rescuing. After talking to the man, it came out that he had chosen not to use his SPOT locator or signal to the helicopter for fear of the high cost of being rescued. He had hoped to make it to the U.S. border and seek medical assistance there.
“This rescue would probably have taken no more than 20 minutes had the subject not had concerns about paying for his rescue,” commented Scott Robinson, SAR manager. “This reinforces the approach we have in B.C. of not making rescuees pay. It is unfortunate this young man had not taken steps to inform himself about the nature of wilderness rescue in B.C. before embarking on such a hazardous race.”
SAR eventually agreed to fly the man close to the U.S. border where he was escorted into the States by the RCMP.