A Tough Call

Nancy Green


KUED Producer, Nancy Green, specializes in the production of documentaries for local, regional, and national PBS broadcast. Her work at KUED spans nearly 25 years, focusing on diverse topics, including healthcare, the arts, history, and the outdoors. Recent, films include, Homeless at the End, Search & Rescue, The Utah Bucket List, Maynard...Read more

I am driving along I-15, responding to a Utah County Search and Rescue call. The text went out to the team around noon. "S:Nebo Loop Fall. Respond to the Monument on Nebo Loop with ATVs for a male who fell 600 ft." It took me a moment to realize that this isn't going to be a rescue. Every call I've been on so far has been about helping someone who got into a jam, and they've all been treatable. This one is going to be different.

I live near the University of Utah and I know it will take me almost two hours to get there. As I'm driving down, my radio is tuned to KUER. I'm an NPR junkie and To the Best of Our Knowledge is on. Ironically, the topic is, "Being with Death." It is fascinating, but I turn it off. I have a more pressing radio signal to listen to. I crank up the scanner volume to find out what is happening on the call.

It sounds like a Life Flight helicopter is on standby in case once they locate the victim, there's a possibility of hoisting him out. The state helicopter is called. The Utah Department of Public Safety has an Aero Bureau, and they are often active in Search and Rescue operations. They also do one skid hover "landings" — a crazy maneuver where they put one skid of the copter down on a rock ledge, but don't land completely. It's useful in cliff areas, but not all helicopter agencies allow it. 

Utah Dept of Public Safety helicopter drops off rescuer Toby Norton.  Photo courtesy of Brian Irving.

I hear the Search and Rescue members checking in. Everyone has a specific number. You won't hear someone saying, "John Smith" on the radio, but if you know that 703 is "John," you know who's up there. Toby Norton is up on the mountain, along with Brian Irving; they're with the reporting party. In this case, it's the victim's two friends. The three were hiking Mount Nebo to train for an upcoming Mount Rainier climb, but while crossing a saddle between peaks, one of the men slipped. His friends tried to revive him, but his injuries were too severe. Brian and Toby stay with the friends until the helicopter can get them to safety. Now the mission focuses on retrieving the victim, who is more than 1500 feet down a steep ravine. 

Early on, in researching this project, I was shocked by how many body recoveries SAR volunteers have to do. They deal with it by focusing on reuniting a missing person with their loved one, by giving somebody closure, by focusing on the survivors, and providing a service. The victim's name is released later that afternoon. Greg Bronder, 40, of Tooele, Utah. Husband, father, avid climber, and volunteer firefighter. 

I wonder how the first year volunteers are handling this death — the first one on their watch. Matt Paskett doesn't make it onto the mountain for the rescue. He ends up on standby at the command post, a small parking spot by the side of the road. Once the helicopter has brought down Greg's body, Matt helps the Medical Examiner do her job, gently maneuvering the body so she can take photographs, a typical procedure for her, but a profound experience for Matt. Later that day I catch up with him; he is still trying to process the whole event. By cradling Greg's head, and helping the examination along, he feels like he was contributing, but is is difficult. He wonders what his dreams will be that evening, if he'll have nightmares. I hope he sleeps soundly, knowing that he helped. 

Four and a half hours after the call comes in, Search and Rescue packs up. Toby rushes home to catch his son's football game — wanting to be there for his kid. Other rescuers head back to celebrate birthdays. Family is important. I imagine Greg would have approved. His last Facebook Post is telling:

"I do not post very much, but just wanted to say that I am so thankful to God for my beautiful children, very understanding and patient wife, amazing friends, and great family.  I am truly blessed in this life and so thankful.  Thank you to all."

Greg Bronder, July 15. Salt Lake City. UT

Photo courtesy of Toby Norton

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