Nevada County, Calif. June 25, 2017 – On June 24, 2017 at approximately 12:30 p.m., California Highway Patrol Helicopter 24 (H-24) received a call for assistance from Cal Fire Dispatch Center in Grass Valley, regarding a man that had been swept down river from Emerald Pools by the swift moving water. H-24 responded from Donner Ski Resort where they had just completed a hoist rescue of a fallen rock climber.
H-24 arrived on scene and began a search from Emerald Pools and followed the extremely swift water down river. After approximately 30 minutes, the crew located the victim, Kalani Tuiono, on a small rock in the middle of the river just above a 40-50 foot waterfall. They marked his location then landed at a landing zone to configure for the hoist and pick up an additional rescuer due to the difficulty and precarious location of the victim. A CHP-trained Truckee Fire Paramedic would be the third crew member on this hoist rescue. They returned to Mr. Tuiono’s location for the very difficult hoist. Using a rescue basket and Fireman Dave Fichter, the hook was lowered and the helicopter maneuvered into position. There was no room for error due to the waterfall below Mr. Tuiono. As the basket was placed next to the rock, Fireman Fichter assisted Mr. Tuiono into the bucket. Officer Calcutt raised the basket as Pilot Officer Emery began climbing and flying to the landing zone.
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After they landed, they spoke with Mr. Tuiono and learned that he has been swept down the white water for approximately one mile. He went over small falls, rocks, was submerged several times, and was able to find the lone rock in the middle of the river before the 40-50 foot drop. Remarkably, he only suffered minor scratches and abrasions. A unbelievable outcome to a very dangerous situation.
Ironically, a couple of hours later, Mr. Tuiono’s girlfriend had to be hoist rescued in the same area. She began searching down the canyon walls looking for her boyfriend and fearing the worst. She became stranded on a ledge in very steep terrain. Rescuers were unable to hike her out, and requested H-24 return for another hoist. After a crew change, H-24 returned and completed the hoist without incident and reunited her with her boyfriend. Both are extremely fortunate to have survived in these very dangerous times on the river with the continuing snow melt and fast moving waters.