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Wildlife Refuge Speaks on Weekend Rescue

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COMANCHE CO., Okla_ A dangerous rescue at the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge on Saturday has refuge officials stressing safety in the wild.

It happened at the zoo wall in the narrows just behind Eagle Mountain around noon. The refuge's Ralph Bryant said a woman was climbing a vertical slope along the wall, when a piece of her equipment failed. The woman dropped 15 feet onto a rocky ledge and severely broke her ankle.

Once rescuers reached it, it took them an hour to get to her, due to the slope of the area. They considered using a helicopter, but that proved to be too risky. Rescuers had to climb the wall themselves to reach her. Bryant said she was an experienced climber, so her accident should serve as a tale of caution about the importance of safety at the refuge.

Bryant said no matter how beautiful the refuge appears, it can also be dangerous.

"It could all change in a split second, when something goes wrong," Bryant said. "It usually doesn't develop over a long period of time. As far as climbing walls, if an accident is going to happen, it's going to happen real fast."

Bryant said the area where this particular climber landed was especially treacherous.

"There's kind of like a sheer rock wall, but there was a ledge below her," Bryant said. "I think she hit the ledge, which stopped her from falling a long distance. It could have been very serious."

Bryant said rescuers considered several options to get the climber to safety. They ultimately decided to get her in a carrier by climbing up from below. Once she was secured, they formed a chain of people who then passed the carrier along to get her to safe ground.

He said another factor that can hinder a rescue is when people don't know their exact location. He said those valuable hours used to find a victim are critical and could mean life or death.

"We've had injuries where somebody has fallen and injured themselves real bad with head injuries," Bryant said. "It's very critical. You've got to get there fast. You've got to get them out and get them to a hospital. So many times, it's hours. Some of our longest rescues that we've had took 7 1/2 hours from the time we got the call till we could get them to a hospital. So, if you have a serious internal or head injury, it doesn't look good."

Bryant said Saturday's rescue was a team effort between the refuge rescuers, the Lawton Fire Department and Sheriff's Deputies. He said they usually get called on about 30 rescue operations a year.

Bryant said you if you plan on hiking at the refuge, bring a partner and always bring a cell phone. Even though most of the refuge has bad cell phone reception, Bryant said there are some good spots.

"We'd like to have better cell coverage out here, because it just improves our response time and better communications all the way around," Bryant said.

He said if you get in a situation where you need to call for help, try to make it to higher ground, if possible, where you'll get better reception.


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