With cold wind and hail lashing near the summit of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, U.S. Air Force flight instructor Joshua Haveman noticed that other hikers trying to reach the peak of 8,800 feet were struggling, especially in the last few hundred feet to the top.
That’s when someone screamed and Haveman watched as a hiker slid about 80 feet and landed on a thin rock ledge, narrowly avoiding a fall further down the mountain. Haveman could see that the man was injured by the way his legs were angled, so he began gathering sticks to make a makeshift splint that was used to stabilize the hiker on his return trip down the mountain.
Haveman’s rescue of the injured hiker on Sept. 2 earned him praise last week from his Air Force base, which issued a news release, calling the instructor an “everyday hero” who demonstrated “extraordinary bravery and ingenuity during a dangerous rescue.”
In the past six years, three people have died attempting to reach the summit, including two people who died in the summer of 2019. A National Park Service spokesperson did not disclose the condition of the injured hiker.
Hikers who reach the top of Half Dome rely on a cable suspension system to help with the last leg of the climb: a steep walk up a steep, slippery granite surface.
Haveman, a flight instructor with the 60th Air Evacuation Squadron, noticed that other hikers on the mountain were desperate to escape the elements as they scrambled over the cable-assisted system, according to the news release.
Anticipating an accident or injury, Haveman put down his bag, pulled out a medical kit, and headed in the direction of the other hikers. Moments later, he saw the hiker fall.
“Other climbers were worried about my safety, but the guy was up there screaming in pain, so I left the cable area and went up to the ledge,” Haveman said.
When he reached the hiker, he secured the splint above and below the man’s shin and wrapped a bandage around his ankle, according to the Travis Air Force Base news release. Haveman also covered the man with his coat and told other people on the mountain to contact authorities. A few minutes later, a park ranger arrived to help the hiker down the cable system and administered shock care, according to the news release.
Another park ranger arrived with a medical bag and the hiker was stabilized with a medical-grade splint, according to Haveman. As the weather improved, other hikers were able to help and set up a pulley system to lower the hiker the last 30 feet to level ground.
That’s when a rescue helicopter arrived to take the hiker off the mountain, according to Travis Air Force Base.
“I wasn’t sure a helicopter could land with the winds that strong, so we were preparing to transport him 10 or 12 hours with a six-man stretcher,” Haveman said. “Apparently, it was this pilot’s first day on the job and he was amazing. It took him about 15 minutes, but he was able to seat the helicopter and we were able to load the patient and breathe a sigh of relief.”
The National Park Service said the incident is under investigation. A spokesperson for the 60th Air Mobility Wing said the Travis Air Force Base news release “describes a personal account of an active accident investigation” and Haveman would not be available for an interview until complete the investigation.