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.