Foothills Park hiker falls, is rescued via helicopter

Seventy-year-old man tumbles down embankment in Palo Alto open space preserve

A 70-year-old man fell down a steep embankment while hiking in Foothills Park Tuesday morning, sustaining injuries to his head, neck, shoulders and ribs, and had to be airlifted out by helicopter after a nearly three-hour rescue operation.

The man, a retired doctor, was hiking with a group of about 10 retired Stanford Hospital and Kaiser Permanente doctors and nurses along Fern Loop Trail near Costanoan Trail in the Palo Alto park around 10 a.m. when he slipped and fell into a ravine, according to Palo Alto Fire Captain Anthony Blakeley-Williams. Members of the group, who get together every week to hike at locations throughout the Peninsula, said the man lost his footing on the edge of the trail, which gave out beneath him.

"He tumbled over and over," said Palo Alto resident Carol Munch, who has known the victim for more than 20 years. She said he hit his head against the trees and lost consciousness. Some members of the group hiked down to him; others hiked out to get phone service so they could call 911. Munch said the man cut his head and was complaining of stiff muscles in his neck and of rib pain.

Another hiker said she had warned the group to watch out for slippery leaves and uneven, soft ground and to stay away from the edge.

The group had set out around 9:30 a.m. and were about 15 minutes in from Wildhorse Valley Fire Road, which connects to the Fern Loop Trail as well as Los Trancos, when the man fell.

They were at about a 1,200-foot elevation, according to a park ranger. One retiree, whom the other hikers described as the fallen hiker's best friend, reportedly walked down and back four times with a group of about eight firefighters to help them get to his friend.

Blakeley-Williams said the team spent most of the time just getting to the man. After hiking in, they put together a hauling system to lift him up the side of a hill. A Cal Fire helicopter carried the man out and landed in an open grassy area along Wildhorse Valley Fire Road, where a Life Flight helicopter was waiting to take him to Stanford Hospital. As the man was transported from one helicopter to another on a stretcher, he was conscious and answering the medical team's questions.

Park Ranger Richard Bicknell said this was the first "two-helicopter incident" at Foothills Park. Hikers often slip and fall and sustain bruises and cuts, he said, but there have only been three incidents in the last 10 years that required hauling a person out of the woods.

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Like this comment
Posted by Avid Outdoorsman
a resident of another community
on Aug 5, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Thanks for being there for us when we need you Cal Fire and other first responders!

Like this comment
Posted by Park Visitor
a resident of another community
on Aug 5, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Thanks to the park rangers and fire department for their great work on this rescue!

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 5, 2014 at 5:23 pm

I hiked in Foothill Park in June and was surprised by the condition of the trails within a city park. Many were in poor shape with significant exposure. Let's hope for a speedy recovery for this victim.

Like this comment
Posted by Hiker
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 5, 2014 at 5:24 pm

I regularly hike this particular trail. I have often thought about how easy it would be to fall down the steep slope if there was a stumble in this section. I wonder if there can be any way to widen the trail along here.

Thanks to those who made the rescue and a speedy recovery to the hiker.

Like this comment
Posted by Retired Staffer
a resident of another community
on Aug 6, 2014 at 7:47 am

Way to go CPA Rangers and Firefighters!

Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Monroe Park
on Aug 6, 2014 at 8:27 am

I've enjoyed hiking that trail for years. A few months ago I started out on it and became uneasy about the slope and the footing at some point and turned back. I, too, wish the trail could be made a bit wider in some sections.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 6, 2014 at 9:05 am

Fern Loop Trail gets to maybe 900 feet, not 1200. Try the Los Trancos trail between bridge 11 and 12 if you want to see treacherous. Hope the city doesn't just close these like the Lucy Evans Center boardwalk at the Baylands.

Best wishes to the gentleman for a speedy recovery.

Like this comment
Posted by Big Al
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 6, 2014 at 9:13 am

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 6, 2014 at 10:21 am

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Chris
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 6, 2014 at 10:27 am

Big Al, I'm not sure what aspect of musical's comment set you off so, but you should keep in mind that threatening someone with physical harm, even if you don't intend to care out said violence, is illegal in California and can even be prosecuted as a felony under certain circumstances.

Like musical, I also hope for a speed recovery for the injured and that there are no permanent trail closures in Foothills as a result of this incident. Sounds like some trail maintenance might be in order in a few places.

Like this comment
Posted by Frequent Foothills Hiker
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 6, 2014 at 11:25 am

I too hike these trails frequently, and, now that I think of it, have sometimes experienced a little slippage that could bring me into danger especially while coming down hill. Recent adjustments to the trails in Foothill have focused on encouraging drainage to avoid erosion but may contribute to this situation. I do agree that it would be a tragedy if incidents such as this led to closing of these trails, since the freedom to explore them, even at one's own risk, is part of what makes like worth living.

Let's post signage to alert users to potential risks and address specific situations where there might be particular danger.

Like this comment
Posted by Him
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 6, 2014 at 11:43 am

I know the gentleman who fell and he is one of the finest people I have ever known. I wish him a speedy and complete recovery.

Like this comment
Posted by Ryamond
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 6, 2014 at 12:29 pm

That's terrible! I hope the gentleman recovers. I like to hike occasionally. It's good to see older folks out there staying fit. My thoughts and prayers.

Like this comment
Posted by radar
a resident of another community
on Aug 6, 2014 at 2:48 pm

The trails in Foothills Park were built by high school and college kids during the summer. I worked there 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969 summers and some springs on weekends. Every summer, all trails were cleaned up, bridges repaired, erosion repaired. Too bad that can't happen now. I suppose it's a response to threat of lawsuits regarding casual employment, union objections, etc.

Bygone era

Like this comment
Posted by Rose Gooch
a resident of Los Altos
on Aug 6, 2014 at 2:49 pm

That is a true blue friend to hike back and forth down to help his friends not once but 4 times. He is a best friend. I hope the hiker is ok.

Like this comment
Posted by Annie Liberman
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 6, 2014 at 3:32 pm

I wish a speedy recovery to the hiker.
Last year I was hiking with my husband, both of us 70+ but in good shape, and I almost slipped off that trail twice, and could have fallen down into the bushes and trees. It was dry, but the trail is perilous. The paths are narrow and sandy. I was very shaken by the experience. I told my husband that I'll never go hiking in narrow paths again. I don't recommend this trail to folks in their 70's.
I thank the CPA Rangers and Firefighters.

Like this comment
Posted by Quercus
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 6, 2014 at 5:55 pm

I find using trekking poles helps with stability on slopes.

Like this comment
Posted by Booboo
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 6, 2014 at 7:37 pm

Trail work in Foothills Park and Arastradero Preserve happens every year by contract, but this year there was a late start. A small trail crew is currently working in Foothills Park at this time, so there should be improvements to the all the trails with in a few weeks.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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