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8 rangers to receive valor awards

8 rangers to receive valor awards

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Associated Press

MOOSE - Eight Grand Teton National Park rangers will be honored with U.S. Department of the Interior valor awards Wednesday for rescuing five climbers who were struck by lightning near the summit of Grand Teton in 2003.

Dan Burgette, Chris Harder, Craig Holm, Leo Larson, Jack McConnell, George Montopoli, Jim Springer and Marty Vidak will be recognized at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., according to park officials.

On July 26, 2003, 13 climbers were headed up the mountain when the bolt killed Erica Summers, 25, of Idaho Falls, Idaho. Five others on Friction Pitch were struck as the charge bounced along rocks.

They included Rodrigro Liberal, 27, who was severely injured and left dangling upside down in his harness. Reagan Lembke, 25, of Idaho Falls, was blasted off the rock face, as was Jacob Bancroft, 27, of Rigby, Idaho, and Justin Thomas, 29, of Idaho Falls. Summers' husband, Clinton Summers, 27, was near his wife and was seriously injured.

The most complex rescue in the history of Grand Teton's Jenny Lake Rescue Team began with a cell phone call.

Rangers were flown to the Grand Teton's Lower Saddle, elevation 11,600, to set up a rescue base and rig ropes for a short-haul operation. But the first attempt to have a ranger hanging from a rope pluck the climbers off the mountain was aborted because of clouds.

Two rangers left on foot for Friction Pitch, climbing the ridge without being roped up.

Over the next five hours, rangers set up climbing anchors, rappelled to the climbers, rendered first aid and prepared them for evacuation. Four were short-hauled to the Lower Saddle then were taken by a second helicopter to the valley floor.

Liberal, who had the most serious injuries, was placed in a litter, raised by ropes and pulleys to the top of the cliff, then short-hauled to the valley floor. One of the rangers was tethered to the litter and suspended from the helicopter so Liberal could be tended to during the flight.

The final rescue maneuver was completed just 20 minutes before it became too dark to fly. The rangers still on the mountain climbed the rest of the Exum Ridge route and descended in darkness.

Copyright © 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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