As Seen In: USA Today, Discovery Channel, US News & World Report

Climbing with Casualties

Rescue Systems

Rescue systems are indispensable when conducting rescue operations. A large number of soldiers will not always be available to help with a rescue. Using a mechanical advantage rescue system allows a minimal amount of rescuers to perform tasks that would take a larger number of people without it.

a. Belay Assist. This system is used to bring a climber over a section that he is unable to climb, but will continue climbing once he is past the difficult section.

(1) First, tie off the following climber at the belay with a mule knot.

(2) Tie a Prusik knot with short Prusik cord about 12 inches below the mule knot, and place a carabiner into the loop. Place the tail from the mule knot into the carabiner in the Prusik cord.

(3) Untie the mule knot without letting the following climber descend any more than necessary. Do not remove the belay.

(4) Maintain control of the brake side of the rope and pull all of the slack through the carabiner in the Prusik cord.

(5) Pull up on the rope. The rope will automatically feed through the belay.

(6) If the leader has to pull for a distance he can tie another mule knot at the belay to secure the second climber before sliding the Prusik down to get more pulling distance.

(7) After the climber can continue climbing, the leader secures the belay with a mule knot.

(8) Remove the Prusik cord and carabiner, then untie the mule knot and continue belaying normally.

Note: With all rescue techniques make sure that you always think everything through, and double check all systems to ensure that you don't accidentally untie the fallen climber or find yourself without back-up safety. Do not compound the problem! When doing any rescue work the rescuers will always be tied in for safety.

b. Belay Escape. The belay escape is used when a climber has taken a serious fall and cannot continue. The belayer is anchored and is performing an indirect belay, and must assist the injured climber or go for assistance. To accomplish this he must escape the belay system. The belayer will remain secured to an anchor at all times.

(1) After a climber has been injured, tie off the belay device on your body using a mule knot. To improve this system, clip a nonlocking carabiner through the loop in the overhand knot and clip it over the rope.

(2) Attach a short Prusik cord to the load rope and secure it to the anchor with a releasable knot.

(3) Using a guard knot or Munter mule, attach the climbing rope from the belay device.

(4) Untie the mule knot in the belay device attached to the harness and slowly lower the climber, transferring the weight of the climber onto the Prusik.

(5) Remove the climbing rope from the belay device attached to the harness.

(6) Release the mule knot securing the Prusik, transferring the weight to the anchor.

(7) At this point the climber is secured by the rope to the anchor system and the belayer can now assist the injured climber.

Low-Angle Evacuation

Cliffs and ridges, which must be surmounted, are often encountered along the evacuation path. Raising operations place a greater load on all elements of the system than do lowering operations. Since all means of raising a victim (pulley systems, hand winches, and power winches) depend on mechanical advantage, it becomes easy to overstress and break anchors and hand ropes. Using mechanical raising systems tends to reduce the soldier's sensitivity to the size of the load. It becomes important to monitor the system and to understand the forces involved.

a. Raising Systems, Belays, and Backup Safeties. Raising systems, belays, and backup safeties are of special importance in any raising operation. The primary raising system used is the Z-pulley system, which theoretically gives three pounds of lift for each pound of force expended. In practice, these numbers decrease due to rope-pulley friction, rope-edge friction, and other variables. A separate belay rope is attached to the litter and belayed from a separate anchor. Backup Prusik safeties should be installed in case any part of the pulley system fails.

(1) Raising System. When considering a raising system for evacuations, the Z-pulley system is the most adaptable. It can be rigged with the equipment on hand, and can be modified and augmented to handle heavier loads. Although the vertical or horizontal hauling lines can also be used, the Z-pulley system offers a mechanical advantage that requires less exertion by the transport team.

(2) Belays. Whenever ropes are used for an evacuation operation, the overriding safety concern is damage to the ropes. This is the main reason for two-rope raising systems (raising rope and belay rope).

(3) Backup Safeties. Because the stresses generated by the Z-pulley system can cause anchors to fail, backup safety Prusiks are used to safeguard the system. These should be attached to alternate anchor points, if possible.

b. Raising the Litter. The litter is prepared as already described.

(1) The raising ropes and belay ropes are secured to top anchors and are thrown down to the litter crew.

(2) Padding is placed at the cliff edge and over any protrusions to protect the ropes from abrasion.

(3) The litter attendants secure the ropes to the litter.

(4) The raising crew sets up the Z-pulley system.

(5) One member of the crew secures himself to an anchor and moves to the edge of the cliff to transmit signals and directions. (This is the signalman or relay man.)

Note: If the load is too heavy at this time, another pulley is added to the system to increase the mechanical advantage.

(6) Attendants guide the litter around obstacles while the crew continues to raise the system.

(7) As the litter nears the cliff edge, the signalman assists the attendant in moving the litter over the edge and onto the loading platform, taking care not to jar the casualty.

c. Descending Slopes. When descending a moderately steep slope that can be down-climbed, the litter and victim are prepared as described earlier (Figure 11-4).

(1) One man serves as the belay man and another takes his position on the rope in front of the belay man, assisting him in lowering the litter. The litter bearers take their positions and move the litter down with the speed of descent controlled by the belay man.

Figure 11-4. Low-angle evacuation - descending.

Figure 11-4. Low-angle evacuation - descending.

(2) The extra man may assist with the litter or precede the team to select a trail, clearing away shrubs and vines. He reconnoiters so that the team need not retrace its steps if a cliff is encountered.

(3) The most direct, practical passage should be taken utilizing available natural anchors as belay positions.

High-Angle Evacuation

Evacuation down cliffs should be used only when absolutely necessary and only by experienced personnel. The cliffs with the smoothest faces are chosen for the route. Site selection should have the following features: suitable anchor points, good loading and unloading platforms, clearance for the casualty along the route, and anchor points for the A-frame, if used. There are many ways to lower a casualty down a steep slope. As long as safety principals are followed, many different techniques can be used. One of the easiest and safest techniques is as follows (Figure 11-5):

a. Use multiple anchors for the litter and litter tenders.

b. Secure the litter to the lowering rope with a minimum of four tie-in points (one at each corner of the litter). Lengths of sling rope or 7-millimeter cordage work best. Make the attached ropes adjustable with Prussik knots so that each corner of the litter can be raised or lowered to keep the litter stable during descent. Tie the top of the ropes with loops and attach to the lowering rope with a pear shaped locking carabiner.

c. Two litter tenders will descend with the litter to control the descent and to monitor the casualty. They can be attached to separate anchors and either self-belay themselves or be lowered by belayers.

d. Once the steep slope has been negotiated, continue the rescue with a low-angle evacuation.

Figure 11-5. Cliff evacuation descent.

Figure 11-5. Cliff evacuation descent.

Back to Mountain Rescue and Evacuation

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