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Hiker critically injured during Southwest Alaska mountain rescue

Laurel Andrews

The rescue of an injured hiker in a Southwest Alaska national park Sunday evening led to the injury of another hiker when the rescue helicopter kicked up a rock that hit the second man in the head, according to the National Park Service.

The Alaska Air National Guard responded Sunday evening to a call that Brian Dodd, 34, had suffered possible life-threatening injuries after falling down a steep, rocky cliff on Copper Mountain in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Kenton Hotsko, 29, was then injured during the rescue, Alaska State Troopers wrote in a dispatch.

Hotsko was in critical condition on Wednesday, said Providence Alaska Medical Center spokesperson Ginger Houghton. Dodd was in fair condition, she said.

Dodd was out with Hotsko and two other hikers on a two-day kayaking and hiking trip over the holiday weekend, said Lake Clark National Park public information officer Megan Richotte.

Dodd, of Port Angeles, Washington, is a seasonal maintenance employee at the park. Hotsko, of Arizona, is a term employee, Richotte said. Both had been working at the park since May.

On Sunday evening, the four hikers were up near the top of Copper Mountain, which rises to an elevation of 4,953 feet, Richotte said. The hikers came upon some unstable rock, she said, and the rocks Dodd were standing on gave way beneath him.

Dodd fell between 30 to 50 feet down a scree slope, “an unstable slope with rock that slides,” Richotte said. 

Dodd suffered potentially life-threatening injuries in the fall, according to troopers. The other members of the hiking party provided first aid, but were unable to evacuate Dodd given his injuries and the unstable terrain, according to the Alaska Air National Guard.

The three hikers called the Alaska Wildlife Trooper in Port Alsworth around 7:49 p.m., troopers reported. By 10:52 p.m., two Air National Guard aircraft, an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter and an HC-130, were on scene, having flown from the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

The hikers were stranded on a vertical cliff face when the helicopters arrived, troopers wrote. 

“The terrain in the area was very steep, and when we arrived on scene it was dark, which required our crews to use night vision goggles to execute the mission,” Lt. Col. Karl Westerlund, director of the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center, said in a press release.

During the rescue, “The rotor wash from a helicopter kicked rock above loose and hit (Hotsko) in the head,” Richotte said.

According to the Air National Guard Release, the crew “hoisted the injured hiker onto the helicopter, and before leaving the area, Guardsmen noticed a second person in the hiking party appeared to be unresponsive. They subsequently hoisted him into the helicopter and the other two people from the hiking party as well.”

“Rescues are not without risk, and we saw evidence of that in this,” Richotte said.

Richotte said accidents on rocky, high-elevation terrain are not uncommon at Lake Clark. “We have people injured almost on an annual basis on this type of terrain,” she said.

“The Air National Guard are the go-to rescue resource in the state, and we highly value their assistance throughout the state,” Richotte added.