When Jacki Mulhair fell from Indian Rock, the search and rescue team, which happened to be training for this exact type of rope rescue on Mt. Emily, was quickly on the scene.
Search and Rescue Lt. Nick Vora and his team were packing up their cars two and a half miles away when they got the call. They had spent most of the day working on rope drills and training, something they do the third Monday of each month. While rope rescue is a low frequency type of rescue, it poses high risks, Vora said, which means they like to practice a lot to stay on top of their game.
“When we first got the call, I was shocked,” Vora said. “Getting that call when we were just practicing that type of rescue, when we were already nearby, it couldn’t have been better (timing).”
Mulhair, 34, of La Grande, was visiting Indian Rock for the first time to watch the sunset with her boyfriend, Jeff Hill, when she jumped out of the truck to take a look over the edge. While Hill was backing up the car, Mulhair got too close to the ledge and slipped over, falling 86 feet. She had taken off her boots and was sitting on the ground to scoot down to the lower bench of the cliff for a better view when she started to slide.
When she realized she was falling, Mulhair flipped onto her stomach to try to grab something, but slipped off the cliff’s edge.
Hill immediately called 911 and the search and rescue team responded first. The SAR volunteers assembled a rope line so that an SAR EMT could reach Mulhair to assess her injuries. Because daylight was fading, they used car headlights and flashlights to generate sufficient lighting until the fire department arrived.
“Besides the lack of light, we are grateful things worked out the way they did,” Vora said.
Once an ambulance was on the scene, two more responders rappelled down to Mulhair to assist with her injuries and with getting her up the side of the cliff. Due to the severity of her injuries, a Life Flight helicopter was called to transport her to Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, Washington. It was difficult to bring Mulhair up in the basket, according to Vora. Because it wasn’t an entirely vertical cliff, the rescuers had to navigate a series of ledges.
Mulhair sustained multiple injuries in her fall, including four broken ribs on her left side, a broken nose, a broken right hip, and her right femur was broken in three places. Mulhair’s sister, Andrea Borge, of La Grande said more injuries may be discovered as testing continues. Since arriving at the hospital, Mulhair has had surgery to place a rod in her right leg and surgery to correct her hip.
“She is awake, although she did lose consciousness,” Borge, said. “She is in a ton of pain, and her face is unrecognizable.”
Mulhair lives in La Grande with her two children, ages 9 and 2. Right now they are staying with Mulhair’s youngest sister. Mulhair works as a babysitter and is a homemaker. The family has set up a gofundme page to help with medical expenses. She is expected to make a full recovery, but will be closely monitored to fight against the likelihood of infection and blood clots, according to Borge.
While her injuries are serious, Mulhair is lucky that SAR was in the right place at the right time. Not all are so fortunate. In 2016, 27-year-old Warren Webb, of La Grande, died in a climbing accident in the Indian Rock area.
“When I realized they were all together and able to get to her that fast,” Borge said about the search and rescue team, “I thought that was God saving my sister. Had she been alone, she would be dead right now.”