An 11-year-old Fair Oaks boy said his Cub Scout training helped him summon aid for his father who had a fallen into a cliff-side tree in Yolo County on Sunday.
Jake Pritchard, a fifth-grader at Earl LeGette Elementary School in Fair Oaks and member of Cub Scout Pack 215, was hiking with his father, Ryan Pritchard, and 18-year-old brother, Devon Pritchard, in the Putah Creek State Wildlife Area.
They had rappelled down a cliff and Jake said he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to get back up, so his father decided they should go down. His brother had gone on ahead, taking some of their gear back to their car, when Ryan Pritchard put his hand on an unstable rock and fell into a tree, his son said.
Jake climbed down to his father to get his cellphone. He then began calling 911, his mother, his brother and his father’s girlfriend in an effort to summon help. The 911 operator answered on his second try, he said.
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“I was frightened the whole time,” Jake said, but he managed to stay calm.
He had learned in Cub Scouts that in an emergency you should call 911 and everyone you know, he said.
A California Highway Patrol helicopter crew rescued an injured Ryan Pritchard, 41, from the cliff-side tree.
“The danger was that the tree would give away and he would fall to his death,” said CHP officer and paramedic Ben Schmidt.
The daring rescue also entailed the copter crew airlifting Jake to safety.
Jake’s 911 call at 3:10 p.m. alerted authorities that his father was stuck in a tree in the Putah Creek State Wildlife Area. While the coordinates derived from the cellphone call failed to lead the helicopter crew to the pair, a resourceful CHP dispatcher using the family name found a Facebook post where the father identified the trail they would be hiking on Sunday.
A CHP helicopter crew eventually found Jake on the cliff overlooking his father’s precarious position. Meanwhile, another CHP helicopter piloted by CHP officer-pilot Pete Gavitte arrived to start the rescue.
While Gavitte kept the helicopter hovering over the boy, Officer Craig Koyl lowered officer-paramedic Schmidt to pick up the youngster.
Once the boy was hoisted and flown to a nearby landing site, the crew went back for his father. Koyl once again lowered Schmidt, this time into the tree on the cliff side. Schmidt then bandaged and prepared the father for a hoist in a rescue basket.
Schmidt and two firefighter rescuers from Vacaville Fire Protection District who had climbed the cliff side helped secure the patient to the back board. The helicopter then lifted the father and Schmidt to safety.
CHP officer Schmidt said there was concern that the tree might not hold rescuers and the father.
“Imagine a cliff with a tree on it,” said Schmidt. “The tree was holding us there. He fell through the tree and the bigger branches caught him. We were working there on the cliff, standing on these branches. It was a kind of precarious situation. That is what made it kind of a challenge to get him packaged in the litter.”
Ryan Pritchard was eventually transported to a nearby hospital by another CHP helicopter. Schmidt said he had head injuries.
Jake’s mother, Selena Pritchard, said Ryan Pritchard, a Natomas resident, remains hospitalized but is recovering.
She said her son was “very calm and collected. I’m pretty proud of him to climb down to get the cellphone,” she said.
The crew that lifted the Pritchards to safety is part of the Golden Gate Division Air Operations unit, based at Napa County Airport. The unit operates two airplanes and two helicopters.
The helicopter is equipped with a rescue hoist that has 165 feet of rescue cable to lift rescuers or patients that can weigh up to 450 pounds into the aircraft.
Call The Bee’s Bill Lindelof, (916) 321-1079.