Hikers drag stricken friend to safety off a mountain

AP News
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Posted: Feb 02, 2015 7:36 PM

Daylight was slipping away and the cold was deepening on New Hampshire's Mount Washington as 28-year-old Monoswita Saha drifted in and out of consciousness. Her four fellow climbers began to worry that waiting for help as instructed by a 911 operator would put all of them in danger.

And so they bundled Saha in a sleeping bag, tied it with ropes and dragged her, slowly and carefully, 2 miles through the snow to meet a rescue crew at the bottom of the trail.

She not only survived but was out of the hospital within a matter of hours.

"They knew if they stopped moving, they would probably die," said Lt. Wayne Saunders of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

The cause of Saha's medical emergency was unclear, but Saunders said the extreme cold and other elements were probably factors, especially considering the woman's small build.

"I'd say they were pushing it," Saunders said of their decision to hike in the forbidding conditions on the 6,289-foot mountain.

In an interview Monday, Saha said she was only mildly aware of what was happening as she was pulled down the mountain. She said the group was well prepared for the hike and that her fainting, which she declined to discuss, was not anything they could have predicted.

"I'm really grateful that it had a happy ending," she said.

The group of five friends from Connecticut, a mix of experienced and occasional hikers, had set out around 9 a.m. Saturday, climbing three miles to a peak without seeing another person. They spent only a few minutes at the peak, where it was so cold any exposed skin was in danger.

Six hours into their trek, as they were making their descent in the late afternoon, Saha began having trouble standing. Her husband gave her hot tea, but even after regaining consciousness, she was not alert.

Using a cellphone, one of the friends dialed 911, and the operator advised them to stay put and keep the woman level. But the temperature on the mountain was about 5 degrees below zero, with gusty winds making it feel far colder.

The group grew impatient, asking how long it would take rescuers to arrive. Nick Potkay, 36, of Trumbull, Connecticut, said they began to worry not just about Saha but also about their own safety.

"If you're standing still, your toes start to freeze up," he said.

Their call was patched through to Saunders, who urged them not to wait for help.

The group started down the trail again, with Potkay and another friend pulling the sleeping bag with Saha inside. They trudged through snow up to their waists in places, checking all the time whether she was conscious and responding.

Saha was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where she was treated and released Saturday evening. She returned home to Trumbull.

Potkay said he was humbled by the experience.

"If you're going to go there, you need to be prepared and know what you're doing," he said.