Hunter French, DPS Chopper Pilot, Having Action-Packed Spring; Helped Out on Two Mountain Rescues in Three Days

Flying injured hikers from mountaintops twice in three days tested the skills of veteran rescue pilot Hunter French.

This dude gets an A-plus.

On March 2, the Arizona Department of Public Safety chopper pilot helped rescue a Washington hiker who'd fallen into a crevice in the Superstition Mountains.

Three days earlier, French was interviewed by several TV news crews after assisting on a rescue of five teenagers in the White Tanks. That incident required French to hover carefully a few feet from the mountainside before performing a "long-line" maneuver, in which a patient in a basket and an attending rescue worker dangle below the chopper from a rope.

French also moonlights as a helicopter instructor for Guidance Aviation, where he's the chief flight instructor for the instrument program.

In the March 2 rescue, French first used his skills to drop off 14 mountain-rescue workers from the skids of his chopper onto a rocky summit in the Superstition Mountains.

Edward Weston, 47, of Washington, had fallen into a crevice about three-and-a-half miles north of the trailhead for the First Water trail, according to DPS.

Bart Graves, DPS spokesman, says Weston and his hiking partner had been hiking off-trail when the Weston somehow managed to fall into the crevice.

"He was wedged tightly between these two enormous boulders," Graves says. "He could not extract himself."

Sounds sort of like what happened to Aaron Ralston of the movie, 127 Hours. Except that before Weston needed to cut off any body parts to get out, his buddy used a cell phone to call for help. French and Central Arizona Mountain Rescue Association volunteers, who partner with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, soon swooped in.

"Soon" is a relative term when you're talking about getting into the remote and rugged Supes, though. It was dark by the time French got there, so the skid-operation had to be conducted by French using night-vision technology.

After the rescue workers on the ground (whose efforts should also be lauded) pulled Weston from the crevice and loaded him into a basket, a mission that took several hours, French flew back to the area and transported the patient to the trailhead. The victim was finally rushed to Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Hospital by about 1:30 a.m.

Weston had been in "extremely critical condition" when taken from the mountain, with numerous broken bones and internal injuries, Graves says. He's still in the hospital as of today, but his condition has improved to "serious."

With the spring hiking season in full bloom, French is bound to log a few more adventurous flight-hours.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern