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Video: Woman spins wildly during Piestewa Peak helicopter rescue

PHOENIX – The Phoenix mountain rescue of a 74-year-old hiker created a stir Tuesday when video showed her rescue basket spinning wildly under the helicopter that carried her to safety.

Video of the Piestewa Peak rescue on ABC15’s Facebook page had more than 2 million views within six hours of being posted.

First-responders with the Phoenix fire and police departments said extreme spinning was rare during what’s called a hoist rescue, but they’ve seen it before and have a plan for how to handle it.

“Sometimes when we bring the helicopter up from the ground, it will start to spin, so we have a line attached to the basket to help prevent that,” Phoenix Police Chief Pilot Paul Apolinar said during a press conference.

“Today, it didn’t.”

Pilot Derek Geisel, who was flying the Phoenix police rescue copter Tuesday morning, said his crew implemented techniques it has learned from previous incidents to mitigate the spinning.

“Once we got the forward flight, the spin got quite a bit less to the point where they were safely able to bring the patient up to the aircraft,” he said, adding that the landing zone was about a half-mile from where the woman was picked up.

After landing, the patient was treated for dizziness and nausea from the spinning, but the effects weren’t serious, according to Capt. Bobby Dubnow, a Phoenix Fire Department technical rescue technician who was on the helicopter.

“Reports from the hospital are that she is stable and suffered no effects from the spinning,” he said.

The rescue was necessary because the hiker had trouble walking after falling and suffering facial and head injuries.

Apolinar said the department has performed hoist rescues 210 times over the last six years, and they know of the spinning phenomenon happening just twice before.

“It’s not something that occurs very often, but when we train for it we actually have to go out with weight in the basket and we have to induce it to make the basket spin,” he said.

Dubnow said that despite the seemingly harrowing outcome, rescuers made the right call in what method to use.

“The crews decided the helicopter was going to be the best option based on the patient’s age, the mechanism of her injury, the heat of the day, the terrain, the amount of work and time it would have taken to bring her down in a big wheel or other means,” he said.

“The helicopter was the correct decision.”

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