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Fallen hiker’s injury prompts 12-hour rescue effort


A fallen, injured hiker in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area south of Sisters prompted a challenging, 12-hour search and rescue operation Wednesday and early Thursday, including an air ambulance having to turn back due to thick wildfire smoke, officials said.

The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue unit got a call at 3:42 p.m. from a hiker, Matthew Searfus of Bend, saying his friend, Michael Clark, 34, also of Bend, had fallen and injured himself in the area of Golden Lake, in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area, said sheriff’s Lt. Bryan Husband.

Searfus said Clark could not walk on his own and would need help getting back to the Park Meadow Trailhead, where their car was parked, about 15 miles south of Sisters on Forest Road 16 (Three Creeks Road), Husband said.

Searfus and Clark were part of a group of five people camping at Golden Lake. They advised it would be about a six-mile hike from the trailhead to their location. GPS coordinates obtained from Searfus’s cell phone helped confirm the location.

Husband said nine SAR members were deployed with a wheeled litter at the Park Meadow Trailhead around 5:35 p.m. The wheeled litter breaks down into three parts to make it more efficient to bring into the backcountry.

SAR members reached Clark just before 8:30 p.m., completed a medical assessment and confirmed he could not walk out, Husband said.

Clark’s medical condition and approaching complete darkness prompted rescuers to call in an air ambulance as the best option. Clark was prepared in the wheeled litter and brought about 100 yards to an appropriate landing zone.

Life Flight was dispatched around 9:40 p.m., but had to turn around after making it about halfway there due to thick smoke resulting from wildfire activity, presumably the County Line 2 Fire in Warm Springs.

As a result, the nine SAR members began to take Clark back to the trailhead by wheeled litter. Another eight SAR members were deployed to assist, Husband said, since the trip nearly six-mile trip included several stream crossings in the darkness.

Life Flight advised around 1 a.m. Thursday that visibility had improved enough to bring Clark out by air. But by that time, an appropriately sized landing zone was unavailable in the area they had reached, Husband said.

The SAR teams continued the wheeled litter transport, arriving at the trailhead shortly before 4 a.m. Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire Department personnel were standing by to take Clark to St. Charles Bend, where Husband said he was treated for a serious but non-life-threatening injury.

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