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Rescuers extract distressed couple from Sunshine Coast Trail

Pair needed to be airlifted and taken to hospital after eating inedible mushrooms
AERIAL EXTRACTION: Powell River Search and Rescue team members were dispatched early in the morning of October 16 to Walt Hill on the Sunshine Coast Trail to help a couple who had ingested wild mushrooms they had picked, which turned out to be inedible.

Two hikers who ingested wild mushrooms faced complications and had to be evacuated using the services of two separate rescue teams.

Powell River Search and Rescue originally received a call to go to the Sunshine Coast Trail to help the couple and ended up contacting North Shore Rescue to assist with an aerial evacuation.

Chad Honey, a search manager with Powell River Search and Rescue, said the team received the call on October 16 around 1 am.

“The call came in about distressed hikers on Walt Hill,” said Honey. “One was experiencing decreased levels of consciousness and gastrointestinal stress.

“The call went out to the team and we all mustered and got the gear together and deployed to the field.”

Honey said the 10 team members who responded split up and two different accesses to Walt Hill were tried. They were unsure about road access, so they tried one route that was fairly close by vehicle to the hut, added Honey.

It was a rougher trail that was within about a kilometre of the hut. The other access was a better drive but it was about a three-kilometre hike for the rescuers, said Honey.

When the rescuers got to the hut, around 3:30 am, they found the distressed hikers.

“We stabilized our [male] subject, provided medical treatment and came up with a plan after assessing the patients,” said Honey. “It was determined that they had some pretty severe side effects after ingesting some mushrooms they had picked that they thought were edible. With the severity of the effects and the nature of the mushrooms that were ingested, a decision was made to extricate them as soon as possible and get them to the hospital.

“We were on the phone with BC Emergency Health Services and a toxicologist at poison control, so we had quite a few people helping out behind the scenes. One of the options for extrication was North Shore Rescue and we decided to go with that option.”

Aerial response

Honey said the extrication occurred right in front of the hut, where there was enough of a clearing for the rescuers to be lowered from the helicopter. He said the operation went smoothly and it was a team effort.

“I’m very proud of the team,” added Honey. 

Dale Weidman, a search manager with North Shore Rescue who was on the helicopter flight, said a call came in from Powell River Search and Rescue around 5 am to the emergency coordination centre because the rescuers had hiked up to the subjects in distress. Weidman said the couple, a man and a woman, were in their 60s and from Kamloops.

Weidman said the Powell River Search and Rescue crew assessed the couple and determined they needed to be extricated and taken to a hospital. He said North Shore Rescue was contacted because they have airlift capabilities through a company named Talon Helicopters, based in Vancouver.

“We were flying out by about 6:30 am and it took us 20 to 25 minutes to get there; we were on scene at about 7 am,” said Weidman. “There was a little bit of a clearing so we got myself and a doctor, an advanced medical provider, to be lowered in and then it was a simple assessment.

“By that time the male was feeling better and so we didn’t have to do any big medical treatments. We hoisted him out, so he went with the doctor up to the helicopter, and then I went with his wife. We flew back to Powell River Airport and an ambulance transported them to the hospital.”

Weidman said rescues by his team in this region are not common, but North Shore Rescue has flown in to assist with rescues on occasion. He said he had performed rescues in this region prior to this incident.

“We’ve done rescues on the Sunshine Coast and it is because of our air ability,” said Weidman. “We now have the ability to do night flights. For this particular rescue we flew over with night-vision goggles and when we got there, daylight was coming up, so we were able to hoist under daylight.”

Weidman said as far as rescues go, this one wasn’t complex, due in large part to Powell River Search and Rescue’s work in arriving at the scene and assessing the patients. He said the male, after having ingested the wild mushrooms, was “definitely suffering.”

Honey said hikers should know that in order to get hold of search and rescue, if they have a problem, to contact 911 if they have phone reception, or to dispatch a friend to contact 911, and ask for Powell River Search and Rescue.

His other caution was for people picking mushrooms, to exercise extreme caution if they are eating species they are unfamiliar with.

He added that rescue calls like this one are rewarding for the rescue crews, when it ends in a good way and things go smoothly.