J. David Goodman NEW YORK TIMES
New York City Police Helicopter Rescues Injured Hiker
May 13, 2014
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  • It began as a Mother’s Day hike with family and ended like a scene from some Rocky Mountain adventure film: an injured hiker, unable to get down from a treacherous cliffside trail; a rescuer descending by rope from a hovering helicopter.

    Except instead of mountains, Manhattan skyscrapers loomed in the distance. And in the helicopter were New York City police officers.

    The rescue was a rarity for the Police Department, whose aviation officers train for water rescues and those in confined spaces — such as dense urban environments — but rarely have a chance to perform the sort of hiker-rescue operations common to more rugged jurisdictions.

    Yet every few years, the department is called upon to pluck the unfortunate from the wilderness a short helicopter ride from town: a kayaker who flipped his boat into a Hudson River marsh and could not get out; hikers in Harriman State Park; two West Point cadets stranded on the rock face of Storm King Mountain.

    As the sun and warmth coaxed New Yorkers outdoors on Sunday, the police aviation unit at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn got a call in the early afternoon about a hiker, Amanda Graham, 36, who had broken her ankle high on a steep rock trail just north of Alpine, N.J., in Palisades Interstate Park. None of the four members who conducted the rescue had ever hiked there, they said later.

    Ms. Graham had fallen while hiking with relatives, officials said. Their first call to 911 went to the Palisades Interstate Parkway Police, who called around 1:30 p.m. to the volunteer firefighters in nearby Piermont, N.Y., who are expert in the park’s trails.

    “We’re up there four or five times a year,” said Daniel Goswick, an assistant chief in the department who took part in the rescue. He was just sitting down for a Mother’s Day lunch with his wife and daughter when he got the call. “I actually left my wife at the restaurant,” he said, but was quick to add that both women are emergency medical technicians and so were understanding.

    Soon, roughly 20 volunteers landed on the shores of the cliff and hiked up 500 meters to a section of trail known as Giant Steps. “The trail is well marked but it is difficult and should only be attempted by experienced hikers,” said Christina M. Fehre, the trail supervisor for the Palisades Interstate Park Commission.

    With Ms. Graham in a stretcher, Mr. Goswick and his team took her to a section of the tree-covered trail where the cliff face, which looms above, had collapsed in 2012, creating a clearing. Other hikers — firefighters from New York and New Jersey out for their own strolls — lent a hand, Mr. Goswick said.

    But soon it was apparent that getting down to the boats or out via the trail would be too dangerous. “She was just at a position that was hard to get her down,” Mr. Goswick said. “It’s a steep drop at a couple of points.” They called for an airborne rescue from New York around 2:30 p.m.

    An hour later, two helicopters were in the air, and 12 minutes after that, they were hovering about 50 feet over the steeply inclined face.

    Officer Edgar Burroughs, who went down on a rope, cleared the area and attended to Ms. Graham, who was about 200 feet above the water. He helped to move her to a stretcher that could be lifted into the helicopter as the pilot, Officer Seth Levinstein, staying nearby, maneuvered to keep the rotating blades from the unforgiving rock cliff.

    Soon she was rising. “She said it felt like a movie, and it really did,” Officer Burroughs said.

    By Monday, Ms. Graham had been treated at Nyack Hospital and released. Her residence could not immediately be learned.