A Durango woman was rescued by helicopter Monday from Engineer Mountain after experiencing health complications.
Jon “Joni” Bender, 64, was in good spirits and undergoing tests Monday at Mercy Regional Medical Center, said her husband, Dan Bender, who is also spokesman for the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office and has assisted in numerous regional rescues.
Dan Bender, who was not with his wife at the time of the incident, said she was hiking with two church friends when she blacked out, possibly from altitude sickness.
“Search and rescue had a classical quick response,” Bender said. “We were thankful for all of the efforts involved.”
Emergency workers were notified about noon of the situation, and they had a helicopter in the air at about 12:10 p.m. Because of the high elevation, the helicopter had to hover for a while to burn off fuel before loading the patient, said Butch Knowlton, director of La Plata County Search and Rescue.
Joni Bender had trouble walking to the helicopter, but she ultimately was able to make it onboard with some assistance, he said. The helicopter took off about 1:10 p.m. en route for Mercy Regional Medical Center.
Emergency responders considered closing U.S. Highway 550 near the top of Coal Bank Pass for safety reasons while the helicopter was in the area, but the highway remained open, Knowlton said.
Joni Bender regularly hikes in the area, but usually not at such a high elevation, which was over 12,000 feet, Dan Bender said. After blacking out, she couldn’t stand and had difficulty breathing. “Those symptoms have all pretty well gone away,” Dan Bender said shortly before 4 p.m. Monday.
“She’s thankful for having friends with her that were able to keep cool heads and request help,” Dan Bender said. “She’s thankful for the helicopter crew and search-and-rescue people that responded.”
It was a joint operation between San Juan and La Plata county search-and-rescue crews.
Knowlton said the patient was on a plateau on the east side of Engineer Mountain. “Fortunately enough, the Flight for Life aircraft was able to get in to them,” he said.