Arizona

UPDATED: After Phoenix Mountain Rescue Turns Into Spin Ride, Victim's Husband Talks

A woman in a stretcher spins out of control during a helicopter rescue at Piestewa Peak on Tuesday morning.
A woman in a stretcher spins out of control during a helicopter rescue at Piestewa Peak on Tuesday morning. gol10dr45 via YouTube

(UPDATE on June 6, 2019: The husband's victim describes to a local radio show how his wife's face was left black and blue by the stretcher's spinning and has been too weak to get out of bed since the incident. See below for more details.)

An elderly woman's hiking day on one of Phoenix's popular urban mountains spun out of control, literally, on Tuesday after she needed a helicopter rescue.

Social media lit up during and after the morning rescue as people shared TV news chopper video of the woman's nauseating, spinning ride on a stretcher hanging by a rope below the rescue helicopter as it flew over Piestewa Peak.

The spinning was clearly a problem, beginning as rotor wash from the rescue chopper set the stretcher whirling. The woman seemed to be turning at a pace of about 150 rotations per minute at one point.


Phoenix Fire Department official held a news conference on Tuesday afternoon to help the public understand what happened. To the experts, the spinning stretcher was "very rare," but no big deal.

Paul Apolinar, chief pilot for Phoenix police, explained that out of 210 rescues the department has conducted involving stretchers beneath helicopters in the past six years, spinning events have occurred twice.

The department received the call about a woman requiring a rescue on Piestewa at about 8:15 a.m. on Tuesday.

The 74-year-old woman had slipped and hit the ground while on the summit trail of the 2,612-foot mountain, injuring her head and face, Phoenix Fire Captain Bobby Dubnow explained. She began experiencing disorientation and couldn't walk.

Rescuers decided to go with a long-line rescue with a helicopter, given her position on the mountain. After she was aloft in the Stokes basket, a line normally would have been attached to stop any spinning. But the line wasn't hooked on this time, fire officials said, and the patient began turning as a hoist attempted to bring her into the helicopter. The spinning soon reached Six Flags-ride proportions, or worse, as the video shows.

Yet the victim "suffered no ill effects from that spin," Dubnow said. "She had dizziness and nausea," and was given medication for that, he added.

She was treated for her hiking injuries at a local hospital.

UPDATE: The victim's husband, identified as George Metro, talked to Mac and Gaydos of KTAR radio (92.3 FM) on Thursday, describing his wife's injuries as more severe than originally reported.

Metro said he and his wife, experienced hikers, were coming down the peak and were on flat terrain when the 74-year-old "stubbed her toe" and fell forward. She broke her nose, cut her face, and injured her left hand and right leg. Metro stemmed the bleeding and called rescuers, who sent the helicopter.

"I didn't know what to think," Metro said of seeing the rescue basket begin spinning wildly after it was aloft. "It was very scary and I think I went into shock."

Metro walked a mile back to his car, then drove to John C. Lincoln Hospital and was surprised to see that his wife appeared in worse shape than when he last saw her.

"I just couldn't believe her," he told the radio hosts. "Her eyes were all blackened. Her face was all black and blue. Her hands and feet were black and blue. I said 'Jesus, what happened?'"

A nurse explained to him that "the blood went all the way to her head and broke the small vessels in her face," he said.

His wife told him that "she thought she was going to die" while the basket spun. "She took deep breaths ... breathed in and out. She didn't know when it was all going to end."

Metro thanked the medical staff at the hospital. His wife is "still so weak she hasn't been able to get out of bed. We're hoping that changes. Her face is still swollen."

The couple will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this October, he said.

Click here for the station's recorded interview.

Metro also posted about his wife's experience on Facebook on Wednesday.

He wrote: "As the husband of that 74 year old woman, I can state that she was more then dizzy after her helicopter ride. She told me that she thought that she was going to die and that she tried to control her breathing because she felt that she was going to pass out. She is now recovering in the hospital and her face is still black from all the small blood vessels that broke during to her numerous spins. It also affected her arms and legs. I do want to thank all the fireman who help treat her during this rescue. I only hope that they can find a way to avoid this type of spinning in the future...."

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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