LA GRANDE, Ore. — A 70-year-old Oregon hunter who was rescued after hanging upside-down for two days about 30 feet (9 meters) above ground was "hollering out" for help, but a father-and-son hunting duo who heard him spent an hour and a half searching for him because they weren't looking up, a newspaper reported Friday.
Eddie Voelker, of Prineville, Oregon, was hunting earlier this week in the remote, northeastern part of the state when he slipped off his tree stand and became entangled in his safety harness while hanging upside-down. Voelker remained conscious but could not free himself, The (La Grande) Observer reported .
Two days later, Steven and Joseph Royston of Stayton, Oregon, were hunting a short distance away and they heard Voelker yelling for help.
He is now in critical condition at a hospital in Richland, Washington, where he is in a drug-induced coma, the East Oregonian reported, quoting family friend Jeanette Jacoby.
"We didn't stumble on him — he was hollering out," Steven Royston told the newspaper. "We were hunting about a mile (1.6 kilometers) or so from his location and I heard someone yelling. I knew we needed to do something."
Since Voelker's yelling was echoing in the forest, Royston and his son drove around in their vehicle so they could cover more ground.
"My son honked the horn, and we knew we were getting closer to him (because) once he heard the horn he started yelling louder. He kept it up so we could find him," he said.
The hunters at first had trouble because they were looking at ground level, he said.
"He said, 'I'm up in the tree,'" Royston recalled. "Holy smokes. He was about 30 feet (9 meters) above and tangled in the ropes from his tree stand. His head was straight down, (and he had) no way to get himself down. We knew we needed to get him help right then."
The Roystons drove about 8 miles (13 kilometers) to get cellphone reception and called 911.
On the way, they flagged down another car and told that person to go sit with Voelker.
They waited by the road and were able to lead a rescue helicopter to Voelker, but the helicopter crew didn't have the right equipment to get him down, Royston said.
About 30 people from all different local agencies arrived, but no one had equipment that was tall enough to reach him.
Then, a paramedic with the La Grande Fire Department remembered seeing the local electric utility training with their bucket trucks to rescue linemen who are injured on the job. The rescuers called Oregon Trail Electric Co-Op and made the unusual request for help.
"I wasn't certain they were going to play ball," Capt. Robert Tibbetts said. "Not because they aren't helpful, but because it was such an unusual request. It was rolling the dice."
Tibbetts said that being upside down for an extended length of time can lead to poor circulation and a multitude of issues — potentially life-threatening — for the body once it's upright. It was actually better that Voelker hadn't been able to right himself when no paramedics were around, he said, because it could have been much worse.
"We knew the likelihood of cardiac arrest is extraordinarily high. We knew we couldn't barge in and put him in the (bucket) truck without doing treatment first," Tibbetts said. "We were forced to slow it down a bit and deal with the medical side of it while developing a plan for the actual rescue."
The U.S. Forest Service set up a rope system to slowly lower Voelker into the bucket, and as they started to do that — and as he became more upright — his medical condition deteriorated rapidly. Voelker's heart stopped briefly, but rescuers got a pulse back before he was loaded onto a helicopter.
Doctors did a procedure on Wednesday to relieve pressure on his brain. Jacoby said he was breathing on his own for a while, but doctors put him back on a ventilator Thursday.
Jacoby told the newspaper that Voelker's family returned to the site to bring home his hunting dogs, which had remained with him.
The accident occurred southwest of La Grande, which is about 260 miles (418 kilometers) east of Portland.