Thanksgiving came early this week for two Riverside County men rescued from a Mt. Whitney snowstorm by a California Highway Patrol helicopter crew.
Jim McKeown and David Webb were without food, water or shelter and trudging through nearly 6 feet of snow when they were pulled into the helicopter at separate locations on the east side of Mt. Whitney, the Fresno Bee reported.
Both men, in their 50s, were unprepared for the sudden High Sierra storm, according to the paper. McKeown left his snow shoes in his truck and Webb did not take a pair, CHP flight officer Andrea Brown said Wednesday.
McKeown and Webb had planned to meet at Iceberg Lake (elevation 12,642 feet) on Thursday but they never made contact. Instead, McKeown decided to walk to the Boy Scout Lakes area, about 100 feet below Iceberg, to find Webb.
As the weather front moved in Sunday, McKeown managed to get cellphone service and called his wife to say he had reached Boy Scout Lakes.
The helicopter based at Fresno Yosemite International Airport was called Tuesday partly because Inyo County Search and Rescue would not have been able to reach the area in time because of the storm.
After searching, the crew spotted McKeown’s tracks and then McKeown himself in the deep snow. Pilot Ty Blasingame was able to land the helicopter and Brown helped McKeown reach it.
“He collapsed in the back of the helicopter,” Brown said. “He had frostbite on his hands and feet.”
McKeown was flown to Lone Pine Airport and taken to a hospital. The helicopter crew then went to Whitney Portal, where they spotted Webb’s vehicle. But after an extensive search they were running out of daylight and were almost ready to give up hope.
“We were thinking he was in his tent, dead,” Brown said.
She and Blasingame made one more sweep and spotted Webb waving at them in the Clyde Meadow area, between Upper and Lower Boy Scout lakes at 11,142 feet.
But he still had to reach the helicopter, which made a perilous “toe-in” landing with only the front of the skids touching the ground as it hovered above a steep slope.
“He took two steps and collapsed, then two steps and collapsed” as he struggled to reach the helicopter, Brown said.
He finally made it and also was taken to a hospital.
“I’ve been flying 19 years and that was one of the better ones,” Brown said of the rescue.