EMERY COUNTY — A woman died Friday in an apparent rappelling accident, and four others were hoisted to safety by a Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter, sheriff’s deputies confirmed Tuesday.
Emery County Sheriff’s spokesperson Janalee Luke said 29-year-old Coralie Gillen Graham of Salt Lake City was with a group rappelling in an area about 10 miles north of Goblin Valley, when she slipped and went headfirst down a slope, ultimately falling 300 feet.
“Some of her hiking companions were able to hike down in to where she was, and one of those was a paramedic,” Luke said. “They immediately started giving rescue breathes and continued that for three hours until the DPS helicopter arrived on-scene.”
Luke said Graham ultimately died from her injuries.
A private helicopter firm was initially called in to recover Graham’s body and extract the others, but could not find a place to land.
Instead, a Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter equipped with a hoist performed the rescue and recovery operation through significant wind.
“This was some of the most rugged terrain that I’ve been in yet,” said Aero Bureau pilot Bret Hutchings. “It was definitely an area where the hoist was invaluable to us.”
Tactical Flight Operator Steve Matheson said the helicopter made 11 separate trips to the ledge to drop off rescuers and to extract everyone.
“There was sand on the rocks, so the footing was poor,” Matheson said. “The angle was approximately 45 degrees in a stair-stepped manner.”
Luke said rappelling into the area to recover the body and extract the others would have taken boots-on-the-ground rescuers roughly two days.
Instead, Matheson said, everyone had been recovered within about 40 minutes of the DPS helicopter arriving.
“I felt extreme sadness for the victim’s friends who had been there working on her,” Matheson said. “They even stipulated that they would like to hike back out, and due to their fatigue and the emotional state, we made the decision that they would be hoisted out for their own safety due to the difficult conditions that we faced during the hoist extraction.”
Hutchings said the DPS crew did its best to bring about a positive outcome.
“You’ve got to be careful in these areas, and unfortunately she just happened to apparently trip,” Hutchings said. “It just takes one trip and you can go off one of these ledges.”
Luke said the area where the group was rappelling was very “unforgiving.”
“It’s a vast wilderness area,” Luke said. “Go prepared. Make sure someone knows what your plans are, when you’re going, when you’re expected to be back.”