Husband: Woman in scary Phoenix helicopter rescue still too dizzy to walk
PHOENIX – Two days after a harrowing, spinning helicopter rescue, the 74-year-old woman carried off a Phoenix mountain hiking trail was still too dizzy to walk, her husband told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Thursday.
“Her face and feet are swollen up from the spinning,” George Metro said about Kati, his wife of nearly 50 years.
“All the blood vessels in her face broke, and her neck. So her face is all swollen and black and blue.”
Metro said he and Kati, retirees and longtime Phoenix residents, are experienced, frequent hikers and in good shape.
He said they were on Piestewa Peak about a mile from their car Tuesday morning when Kati tripped.
“My wife caught her foot on a rock and fell forward and smashed her nose on the ground, and the glasses cut her nose, which caused bleeding,” he said.
“And she landed on her left hand and left foot, so she had a little injury there, so I called 911.”
He said first-responders were on the scene in about 20 minutes and determined that a helicopter was the best option for the rescue because Kati’s hip was hurting.
He said he doesn’t blame the rescuers for the frightening events that followed.
Kati was strapped on her back into a rescue basket to be carried to safety. However, once in the air, the basket suspended under the helicopter started wildly spinning faster and faster.
“Something broke, something happened. I just don’t know what it was. But they were so good and they were so thoughtful, so I just can’t blame them in any way,” George said.
The incident was captured by ABC15 cameras. Video posted to Facebook had nearly 11 million page views by Thursday afternoon. One of those views can be attributed to George.
“I only saw it once because I saw the real thing,” he said.
“The firemen with me, they didn’t have anything to say. One of them said ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before.’”
In a second KTAR News interview Wednesday, this one with Mac & Gayodos, George said his wife hasn’t seen the video.
During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, rescue personnel from the Phoenix police and fire departments said such spinning was extremely rare but not unprecedented.
One rescuer said the line that typically prevents the basket from spinning became disconnected, and once the in the air they couldn’t stop the spinning or bring the basket back down.
Pilot Derek Geisel, who was flying the Phoenix police copter, 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.
George said Kati told him she never lost consciousness during the ordeal.
“She said that she thought she was going to die, and she started to pray,” he said.
Kati felt like she was going to black out but managed to stay awake by taking deep breaths, he said.
“She said when they took her out of the basket she was still awake and she remembers the firemen talking to her,” he said.
George said he hiked back to his car and drove to HonorHealth John C. Lincoln Medical Center, where he waited an hour while tests were being run before seeing his wife.
“She’s been very coherent since, just in a lot of pain and very dizzy and nauseated,” he said.
“Her progress isn’t going as well as I hoped, but they’re keeping an eye on her and they’re going to do therapy with her and a lot more tests.”
During Tuesday’s press conference, the rescuers gave the impression that the impact of the spinning on Kati was minor, but that doesn’t line up with George’s description of his wife’s condition.
“She’s been so dizzy that she can’t walk, and so her one leg is not doing well so they need to get her out of bed so she can use it,” he said.
George didn’t know how long Kati would be hospitalized but said it’s likely she’ll need to spend time in a rehab center after she’s discharged.
“It’s unfortunate what happened,” George said. “I hope they can solve that problem. I would never want to see anything like that happen again to someone else.
“Two minutes spinning in a helicopter when you’re 74 years old is a pretty hard experience.”
KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Nailea Leon contributed to this report.