Md. Helicopter Assists Rescue of Bride-to-Be Who Falls on Hike After Proposal

A Park Police helicopter plucks a woman from a rock face along the Billy Goat Trail Sunday. The woman fell shortly after her boyfriend popped the question and sustained serious but not life threatening injuries. Video by Park Police Footage
By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 8, 2009

It could not have been a more memorable proposal.

A man took his girlfriend hiking Sunday afternoon on the gorgeous -- albeit rocky and rough -- Billy Goat Trail, on national parkland near Great Falls. At some point, he popped the question. She said yes.

As they continued their walk, the woman apparently slipped, fell down a rock face and was injured. With no way to reach her easily, emergency responders used a U.S. Park Police helicopter to pluck her off the path.

Authorities said that the woman, who briefly lost consciousness, suffered bumps and bruises and injuries to her head and chest that were not life-threatening.

"That must have been a heck of a proposal," joked Assistant Chief Scott Graham of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service. "I believe she did [say yes]. . . . If she didn't, I think we ought to investigate this one."

Authorities were called to the area about 1:30 p.m. Sunday to assist an injured hiker on Billy Goat Trail, in the area of Old Angler's Inn in Potomac. When they arrived, they found the woman about 10 feet down the rock face.

County rescuers reached the woman by climbing nearly 100 feet to her from a boat on the Potomac River. They then stabilized her on a backboard. But lowering her to the river seemed too dangerous. And carrying her back up seemed unwise as well.

The spot was a mile from the nearest parking lot, and the terrain had proved unstable, said Sgt. Chris Perkins, the medic aboard the helicopter that took part in the rescue. Officials decided to hoist her into the helicopter, he said.

With the helicopter hovering about 50 feet above the cliff, Perkins guided the pilot, Sgt. Kevin Chittick, to a spot directly over the woman, who was loaded into a rescue basket. Using the chopper's hoist system, he lowered a cable that rescuers on the ground attached to the rescue basket. In less than five minutes, the crew was on its way to Suburban Hospital in Bethesda with the bride-to-be.

"There's some degree of risk with the maneuver, obviously, because you're, A, flying and, B, lifting a human being on a cable, but it's well practiced," said the co-pilot, Sgt. Ken Burchell. "It literally was about a three-minute flight."

Authorities did not identify the woman or her fiancé, citing laws governing the privacy of medical records.

Officials blamed the terrain for the woman's fall. She had not been drinking, and she was wearing the proper footgear, an indication that she is an experienced hiker, they said.

"Billy Goat Trail is an absolutely beautiful, beautiful trail. It's a great hike," Burchell said. "But it's very rugged."

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