When Francesca Mowry of Alpharetta headed into the woods for wilderness rescue training, she had no idea her college group would soon be using skills they just learned to help save a life.
Mowry and other members of Gettysburg College's Gettysburg Recreational Adventure Board (GRAB) helped rescue a woman who fell 80 feet off a cliff at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky on March 15, according to a story by Teri Myers of the college's Office of Communications and Marketing.
Mowry said in an interview with Patch that the GRAB members had just completed a rope training course with a rescue volunteer in Kentucky.
The GRAB students, who are trained as wilderness first responders, spent their spring break at the Gorge, participating in an intensive climbing program and learning about highline rescues from one of the leading authorities in the industry, Myers' story said.
Just days before they were slated to leave the area, one of the search and rescue volunteers who had worked with them earlier in the week contacted the GRAB group to ask for their help – a woman had fallen off a cliff near an area called Indian Staircase, and the students' unique expertise could help save her.
"Due to our students' training, medical backgrounds, and familiarity with climbing and rescue equipment, we were well-positioned to be of assistance," said John Regentin, director of experiential education at Gettysburg College in the college's article. "This was an opportunity that presented itself, and the students used their training, jumped to action, and were able to help local authorities rescue someone in need."
Mowry is in her first year with the group and hasn't gone through all of the training, so she only had a vague notion of what they would find on the site.
The group spent the morning working on anchor systems on the cliff ledge by their campsite. When they returned for a lunch break, Regentin found a message on his phone asking for help with the rescue. Everyone said they wanted to help.
"Essentially we were running blind. We didn't know if we would be searching for her, helping to package her in the litter or what," Mowry said. "I just remember thinking that I wanted to do anything I could to help this woman make it out, even if it meant just carrying bags down the trail."
Once they got to the trailhead, they started the two-mile hike. Talking was at a minimum as the group focused on the coming rescue, "not to mention on the trail itself since it had been raining and the dirt had turned into a mudslide on the steep ups and downs."
Halfway down the trail they learned the woman had been found and was in a litter. When they got close to the scene, a rescue volunteer gave them a quick briefing of what needed to be done.
After setting up the necessary rigging, the students were able to safely rescue the injured woman from the bottom of the cliff where she had been for 15 hours, according to News@Gettysburg, and transport her two miles through the woods so she could get additional medical treatment.
The group had 8-10 people carrying the litter, with four in front calling out the roots and rocks ahead so those carrying the litter knew when to lift it up, and when to put it down. Mowry said they did their best to keep the woman level and avoid bumps on the trail.
Just two days after learning pulley systems, small groups of the GRAB team were setting them up to move the litter smoothly down particularly steep sections.
"There were a few spots where the trail got extremely narrow and the drop-off was basically a mudslide. At these points we had people running along the sides pushing the people carrying the litter to make sure that the carriers didn't slip," Mowry said.
This rescue wasn't the only aid the GRAB group gave during their spring break away training. Earlier in the week, they left climbing behind to assist a family that was affected by a March 2 tornado that caused damage throughout parts of Kentucky. The students were able to help dismantle a storm damaged house and barn for a family who had lost a member in the tornado.
"Looking back on it I can't believe that within five days we went from knowing nothing about rope systems, to completing a Rope Technician course, to setting up a highline across the Gorge, to helping as best we could to clean up damage left by the tornadoes and then end up getting to help get Katie off the trail and to the ambulance," Mowry said.
"I was astonished that, when the ambulance pulled away, everyone just started complimenting each other and telling each other what a great job they had done. None of it was about bragging, it was all just joy that we had done our part and did everything we knew to do to help. It was being human and doing what was right and what, hopefully, others would do for us," she said.
Teri Myers of Gettysburg College provided additional information and quotes used in this story.