Injured hiker saved in daring Southern Utah helicopter rescue

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WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Washington County chalked up another daring helicopter rescue in red-rock country over the weekend.

The latest one did not involve a serious injury, but photos and videos of the rescue display a strikingly precarious landing spot for the rescue helicopter.

Similar rescues in the past by the Washington County Search and Rescue team have drawn national attention. The topography they operate in sometimes demands tricky landings, and that was the case Saturday when pilot Jeremy Johnson flew rescuers as close as he could get them to the stranded hiker.

It wasn't the ideal landing situation, but he was able to pull it off safely.

–Casey Lofthouse

"Well I'm glad it was him flying that helicopter and not me, or we'd have been somewhere different," said Richard Leavitt, leader of the county's high-angle rescue team.

They were called in to help out a woman who was hiking with her husband. "She twisted her ankle and hurt her arm," said rescuer Casey Lofthouse. "She was in a situation where she needed some help getting down off the mountain."

The incident unfolded high in the Red Mountain wilderness near St. George. It's a place with dramatic topography where a hiker needs both hands and both feet to travel over the demanding terrain. For rescuers and rescues, there's an ever-present hazard of falling off a cliff.

To get rescuers close enough to the hikers, the chopper pilot chose a rock pinnacle with cliffs dropping straight down on three sides. "It wasn't the ideal landing situation," Lofthouse said, "but he was able to pull it off safely."

Rescuers got to the injured woman in a matter of minutes instead of the hours it would have taken to hike and climb. The chopper made three landings in the precarious spot, ferrying the couple to safety and retrieving the rescuers.

Piloting choppers is a volunteer proposition for Johnson. He's a millionaire St. George businessman who heads up the sometimes controversial internet business called iWorks.

Johnson lends his helicopters and sometimes his own flying time when the volunteer search and rescue team needs help. "He tries to make himself, or two of his employees, available any time possible," Leavitt said.

"He's just a lifesaver for us," Lofthouse said. "He gets us to places that would take hours and hours of time and energy and labor. And he does it in a manner that's safe."

Of course, he probably has some fun doing it, too. Johnson was unavailable for comment.



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