By Karen Morfitt
GRAND COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – A group of Colorado climbers is thanking crews after an incredible rescue on Lone Eagle Peak in Grand County.
For Brian Kooienga, it started like any other day on the mountain, and on the last climb of the day, everything changed.
“Somewhere along the way I had I think my left foot blew out on me and that caused one of my hands to slip,” he said.
After falling nearly 40 feet, he was unable to move.
“I had a couple of broken ribs which led to a partially collapsed lung, and then there’s small bones that come off of your spine and I broke 11 of those, and a broken tailbone,” he said.
His climbing partners, Kevin Smith and John Balciar knew it would be an area difficult to access.
“Trying to get a helicopter to land in there is not going to happen,” Smith said.
Before making the eight-mile hike back down, Balciar hit the SOS function on what is called a SPOT device, sending their coordinates to the nearest county, signaling trouble.
Grand County Search and Rescue answered that call.
“Once I got down to the trailhead, I’m relaying all of the information I can. The size of the ledge, the slope of the ledge, how close to the peak,” Balciar said.
With help from Flight for Life, rescue crews got a visual on the climbers.
Unable to reach them, a Blackhawk helicopter came in to help.
“They put their lives on the line to help us,” Smith said.
After three attempts, rescue crews were able to hoist Kooienga off the mountain.
Now, all three are home safe and thanking the men and women who volunteer their time to save lives.
“What they were able to do in such a short amount of time and a very challenging environment, I tip my hat to all of them,” Kooienga said.
SAR groups in Colorado do not charge for rescues. If you would like to support their missions, you can purchase a CORSAR card for just a few dollars.
Having one on you during a rescue allows the county’s sheriff’s office to request reimbursement.
Karen Morfitt joined the CBS4 team as a reporter in 2013. She covers a variety of stories in and around the Denver metro area. Connect with her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @karenmorfitt or email her tips.