Monday, March 23, 2015

Huge Rescue Operation Saves Family On Marcy

Marcy RescueA mother and her two young sons were rescued from the summit of Mount Marcy Sunday morning in one of the biggest overnight search and rescue operations in years.

The mother, Ning Cai, and her two sons, ages 7 and 11, were helicoptered off the summit at about 11 am Sunday. They suffered cold-related injuries. The two boys are still hospitalized, according to an Associated Press report. The mother was treated and released from Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake Sunday. 

The Potsdam family had gotten into trouble Saturday evening after losing the trail as they were descending from Marcy’s summit, which they left at about 4 pm. Forest ranger Scott Van Laer said there was a whiteout during the afternoon and evening, making visibility very poor.

“When I was skiing across Avalanche Lake, it was pretty bad,” Van Laer said, who responded to the rescue call from the Lake Colden interior caretaker’s cabin.

Realizing they were in trouble at about 5:30 pm, Cai called Essex County 911, which transferred the call to a state Department of Environmental Conservation dispatcher in Ray Brook. She eventually talked to Van Laer and another ranger to provide details about their predicament. Although Cai was able to talk to the emergency responders, they were not able to determine the GPS location of her cell phone because it was an older foreign model.

The call did initiate a rescue response however, which included 26 forest rangers, four environmental conservation officers, the state police special operations response team, and state police supervisory staff.

Rescuers launched such a large response because of the age of the children, the time of day, the weather and terrain, Forest Ranger Captain John Streiff said. It was the largest rescue team since at least December 2012 when an ice climber was saved on Nippletop Mountain.

“As far as our urgency chart, this was way up there,” Streiff said. “We had many, many red flags popping up.”

The first team of forest rangers reached summit of Marcy at 9:30 p.m., about the same time communications between them and Cai ended. That first wave of searchers worked until midnight until being replaced by another group.

Cold temperatures, strong winds and rugged terrain made the search difficult. Winds up to 30 and 40 mph with gusts to 50 mph, -10 degrees temperatures and dangerous wind chills of -30 to -40 were forecast.

Van Laer said he believed the family was just below treeline and sheltered from the wind during the night. He noted that it’s not uncommon to be able to survive the first night of being lost, but the chances of dying increase significantly the second night. He said the mom had the kids do exercises to keep warm during the night.

On Sunday morning, state police helicopter pilot Sgt. John Haverly spotted the family at about 11 am, about a quarter mile from the summit.

“We took one lap around (Marcy) and on the southwest side, I see some woman waving her ski poles. I said, ‘I think that might be them.’ We circled around, confirmed it,” Haverly said.

A forest ranger was then lowered down to the family. After assessing them, the forest ranger determined they were all were in fair condition with some cold-related injuries. Forest rangers hoisted the two boys up to the helicopter that then transported them to Adirondack Medical Center in Lake Placid around 12:15 pm for further evaluation and treatment.

Additional forest rangers arrived and tended to the mother while the boys were transported. The helicopter returned for the mother, hoisted her from the mountain and transported her to Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake for further evaluation and treatment at about 12:50 pm .

After the rescue, the efforts of the responders were applauded by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and DEC Commissioner Joe Martens.

“We are all grateful that the family is now safe, thanks to the exceptional work of the Forest Rangers and State Police,” Cuomo said. “Time and time again, DEC forest rangers, DEC environmental conservation police and the New York state police selflessly heed the call to help others in the most dire of situations to ensure the safety of the residents and visitors of New York state. I congratulate them all on a job well done.”

Martens said that “DEC forest rangers are one of the premiere search and rescue organizations in the country. Their knowledge of first aid, land navigation and technical rescue techniques are often critical to the success of their missions. This successful search and rescue incident demonstrates they don’t do it alone. It often takes the cooperation of state and local agencies, working as a team to ensure a successful ending no matter what conditions they face.”

Photo provided by DEC: Forest rangers search Mount Marcy Saturday night.

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Mike Lynch is a staff writer and photographer for the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly news magazine with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues. Mike’s favorite outdoor activities include paddling, hiking, fishing and backcountry skiing. In 2011, he paddled the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine. From 2007 until 2014, Mike worked as an outdoors writer and photographer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake. Mike welcomes story ideas and can be reached at

34 Responses

  1. Shirley says:

    as a life long resident of NYS: I believe the State needs to charge people for these rescues. What mother brings a 7 and 10 year old on Marcy in below zero weather and leaves the summit this time of year at 4:00 p.m.? This is negligent and jeopardizes our search and rescue teams and our pilots… CHANGE YOUR WAY NY…MAKE PEOPLE PAY, charge a fee. This should not be on the tax payers anymore, NO FREE RIDE!

    • Dora says:

      I so agree with you! They have no Brains to put it mildly! They should pay and think twice! It is not all right babe!

  2. Dora says:

    What are these people thinking! I went out in July and froze my butt off and had a fire going and bags and insulate and all the things to keep you well. Start using your heads people! Do you have a death wish, So sorry put these people are not knowing the white’s!

    These people put our best research and rescue teams at Risk!

  3. Nature says:

    I am glad everyone made it off the mountain alive. It sounds like the kids have frostbite, or something similar (in the hospital till the end of the week). I will give this woman credit for keeping herself and her children alive during what must have been a very difficult night. I hope this will be a major wakeup call for her, and will help to educate others who might otherwise make the same mistake.

    Due to the age of the children involved, I would call this a case of negligence. I will have to assume that the mother had no idea how dangerous this trip was. I don’t care how experienced these kids or the mother may have been. they should have abandoned their trip once they got to treeline,if not earlier.

    I am all for getting kids out into nature. But this comes with a responsibility to know when to stop.

  4. Jeff says:

    I’ll reserve judgement until I hear more about the woman’s level of experience and preparedness. It may be difficult for non-hikers to comprehend, but Marcy can be a reasonable objective for an experienced and well prepared family group, even in winter. Keep in mind that the forecast for Saturday was relatively mild. As for charging for rescues, would you expect to be billed by the fire department if your house was burning down?

  5. gregor says:

    @Jeff – If I was smoking a big cigar while gassing my lawnmower in my garage and spilling it all over and then setting it on fire – yes maybe then I should be charged by the fire department.

    Yes I do think NYS should charge for rescues that result from negligence. Taking young children on a hike of that nature was pretty irresponsible to say the least.

    Old “foreign” phone? What’s up with that?

    • Joeb says:

      Ok. So lets start posting signs at the trail head that says “No one under the age of 18 allowed past this point because you may get hurt or or be put in danger ” that way , we will protect our kids from any danger out there . While we are at it, lets not let kids ( again under 18 )play baseball, football, soccer or hockey for they may get hurt and the parents could be charged with negligence. While we are at it , lets make it illegal for those under 18 to go swimming, water skiing and down hill skiing. It would just be irresponsible on the parents part to put their kids in danger participating in these sports that could prove fatal. Nope . Lets just put our kids in a padded room till they are 18. That way they will stay safe.

      I agree with Jeff. I reserve judgement as well. If the mother had her kids in shorts and sneakers then I would say yes, that is negligence. I wounder how many experience hikers get caught in a situation that requires outside assistance from DEC ? I’m sure there are a few. Should we charge these people for being rescued as well ?

      If we do not want to put DEC rangers in harms way , lets just close the wilderness areas off to everyone. Then we can just look at it from the road , the DEC Ranges can stay in their outpost playing checkers because that’s all they have to do . Then we , the taxpayers, will complain for we are paying them to just sit around .

      Look. The DEC Rangers as well as the police force, firefighters and paramedics and all first responders love what they do and that is helping people in time of need. They risk their lives for those whose lives are at risk. Its comforting to know that any of us who go into the woods for our love of it , will not be charged if faced with a situation we can not get out of whether we are experienced or not . If this is the case , then no one would go into the woods and we would just give up living our lives .

  6. Victor Forbes says:

    As Joyce Meyer would put it, “This is a special kind of stupid.” Those Rangers are the best kind of humans — selflessly serving.

  7. Tony Goodwin says:

    The State of New Hampshire does have a law that allows those rescued in the backcountry to be fined if their own negligence led to their needing a rescue. The fine is for needlessly endangering the lives and safety of rescue personnel. This provision is not invoked all that often, and I’m not aware of whether it has had a salutary effect on hiker behavior in New Hampshire. Nevertheless, while New Hampshire has had this provision for many years, I first heard this concept from our own now-retired forest ranger Peter Fish. He thought that such a provision could be very powerful when talking to unprepared hikers and being able to tell them that a specific warning from a ranger would make it an easy case to prove in court.

    Structuring the charge as a fine makes it much less likely that a hiker rescue insurance program could be devised. If one divides the annual cost of rescues by the number of hikers, the cost per hiker would be quite small and therefore any insurance premium would be quite small. The question then would be whether hikers would be even bolder knowing that they carried an insurance card entitling them to a “free” rescue. Then there are the issues of collecting from residents of other states or countries. Additionally, what if the victim demands that they be carried out because that would be cheaper than a helicopter. Or what about a search initiated by a family member, and then the subjects walk out saying it was a misunderstanding as to when they would return. Who pays then?

    Based on what I have read so far about this incident, I think a negligence fine would be appropriate. It was late in the day, and the conditions as reported by others on the mountain that day should have caused any reasonable person to turn around at timberline.

    • Jeff says:

      I agree wholeheartedly with the concept of a fine for negligent or grossly unprepared hikers who need to be rescued, but I’m not sure it should apply here. This party made some poor decisions (becoming separated from their gear, proceeding to the summit in deteriorating conditions, etc), but IMO not to the level of gross negligence or incompetence.

  8. Pete Kleinr says:

    Thanks to the rescuers. No thanks to the [REDACTED – NO NAME CALLING] mother.
    Every time you step onto a trail, be it to a pond or to the top of a mountain, any mountain, you are taking a risk. The longer the trail, the higher the mountain, the less than ideal climate conditions, the greater the risk. This “hike” up Marcy was dumb and the woman did put her children and herself at risk.
    When the risks become really great, such as a “hike” up Everest, they leave your dead body up their because rescue is a waist of time, money effort and lives lost trying to save you from your stupidity to “hike” up the mountain.

    • Paul says:

      Actually part of the huge permit fee you pay for being on Mt. Everest is used to help cover a rescue by the Napalese authorities (if they can rescue you). Rescue in the Himalayas is also turning into big business these days. New helicopters can get to incredible altitudes and some companies exist just to rescue hikers for a fee. In 2013 they helicopter rescued a climber at 23,000 feet on Everest. If you don’t pay the 25K fee (for a single hiker) it is illegal to be on the mountain.

  9. Hawthorn says:

    Here we go again, debating fines, etc., but please don’t argue that kids shouldn’t be allowed in the wilderness. With good preparation and leadership, whether from parents or whomever, what better way to raise children? Obviously this person made mistakes or she wouldn’t have been there so late and without the means to navigate down, but let’s not condemn parents bringing children into the woods, winter and summer. If that were the case my father would probably be in jail today for all the semi-dangerous expeditions he took us on.

  10. John Warren says:

    Folks –

    You don’t have all the facts, so let’s please stop pretending we do and act like adults. If you want to call people names, feel free to do it somewhere else. The Almanack comment section is not the place for histrionics and name calling.

    Rangers reported that they were well-prepared. The weather was fine on Saturday when they went up. They left the summit at 4 pm, a bit late, but that still left three hours to get back to the trail-head on well-trodden trails before sunset.

    If you’ve never been in a accident or made a bad decision, good for you – but I suspect that’s not the case.

    John Warren

    • Tony Goodwin says:

      Reports from others on the mountain that day indicated that conditions were not at all “fine” above tree line. They were bad enough, in fact, that other parties did turn around at timber line.

      • John Warren says:

        Agreed, it was a wrong decision to continue on. I was referring to those here who think that conditions were poor when they left the trailhead.

      • I was ice climbing on Mt. Colden that day…high up the western slope on one of the slides. Conditions were sketchy at the start and deteriorated throughout the day and our highest elevation was only 3,700′, nearly 2,000 feet lower than Marcy’s summit. I talked with several en route back to the trailhead that attempted different peaks; some made it and others turned back due to whiteouts and high winds.

  11. Pete Biesemeyer says:

    What Tony Goodwin and John Warren said. Amen!

  12. Bruce says:

    This sort of situation is not unusual. This past year alone we had two incidents in Western NC. One involving several folks going out on the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with inadequate supplies or clothing for the weather, which can change in a heartbeat, and another involving a family climbing Mt. LeConte (also in the park) late in the day thinking it would be a short trip. Again, it was a situation of inadequate preparedness…the family had two or three children, not enough water or clothing for the cold night they spent on the mountain.

    I mean, how difficult is it to check weather forecasts, call local outfitters etc., to find out what conditions one might run into before starting on these outings? Better to have a delay or cancellation than to require rescue people in rough weather.

    • Christine says:

      This got to be a severe case of summit fever, according to her Postdam SUNY faculty profile Nin Cai is a smart woman in many ways. She is a native Chinese and claims travelling extensively in Yunnan Province and many other parts of China. The attached picture shows a small frame individual carrying a huge backpack! She will probably ask herself for years why she made all those seeminly poor decisions, specially in light of an afternoon of quickly deteriorating weather condition which was in all the previous day forecast!

  13. Paul says:

    Some kids this age are 46ers. I don’t think that is really an issue. Most 7 years olds can run circles around most adults. A 9 year old has summited Mt. Everest.

    • Bruce says:

      Paul, you’re right. Kids are a lot more durable than we sometimes give them credit for being, but those kids you mentioned who are 46ers and summited Mt. Everest were in the company of thinking, properly prepared adults who made absolutely sure those kids had everything they needed to accomplish the goal.

  14. adirondackjoe says:

    i wonder what would have happened if she did not have a cell phone.

  15. Hope says:

    This event is no reason to call for no children in the backcountry. It is unfortunate that some poor decisions were made by the parent but that in itself is a learning moment for the adult as well as the children. The fact that they survived a very brutal night on Marcy indicates to me that they were somewhat prepared inspite of leaving some of their gear at tree line.

  16. Joe Hansen says:

    First off, I’d like to thank all the emergency personnel that helped in this rescue of this family. I can think of no greater good for my tax dollars than to save lives. I’ve been an outdoor guy my entire life and never needed outside assistance, but I refuse to stoop to victim blaming for those who do. Some actions by individuals are just plain foolhardy and no one in their right mind would condone that kind of behavior, but I’m not so sure this is the case here.

  17. Jesse Gigandet says:

    As always, a fantastic effort by all of the rescuers and their tireless commitment to this family.

    Shame, shame, shame on this mother who put herself, her young children and all of those rescuers at risk for their lives.

    It’s bad enough that she made the poor decision to imperil your own life.This mother made a conscious decision to continue up to summit at such a late hour – with cold temperatures and deadly wind chills AND with young children. Reckless and dangerous for everyone – especially the children.

    Thanks to the heroic rescuers, fortunately this story had a happy ending for all.

  18. Mike Clarke says:

    I would suspect that the mother will be investigated by DEC and possibly CPS. This story isn’t over, so, once the facts are in, perhaps we will hear more. I certainly don’t think the backcountry should be off limits to anyone…with sense!

    • Paul says:

      CPS? Look let’s give the woman credit for having her kids outdoors rather than glued to a computer screen. It sounds like they were well prepared they just stayed in the woods a little too long. Anyone who hasn’t done that hasn’t spent enough time in the woods.

  19. A fellow human says:

    I am so frightened by some of the comments on this forum. Our country, our society we have created that allows for the passing of judgment on our fellow humans seeks to dismantle the only true strength we possess as creatures inhabiting this marvelous planet. There is not a single one of us that have not and will not require the aid of another. Nurses thrust hands covered by a mere sheath of latex into contact with the body fluids of folks who make poor choices every day. Should we not care for your teenaged daughter who drank and drove into a car full of children? Or your son who comes home from college HIV positive after deciding to become a rapist? Continue to wish ill of others and it will come back upon yourself a hundred fold. Stand your ground in your beliefs that you will never require the assistance of another in your time of need and we will surely create a world in which there is no help available when you do. When will we realize we exist but by the grace of others?

    • Hope says:

      God I want to “LIKE” this comment. Thumbs up! And Kudos!
      Let’s bring more kids into the woods. Let’s educate the next generation to have the respect that is required of nature. Who will be the next generation of Rangers?

  20. Hawthorn says:

    As a practical matter, I doubt fines would act as much of a deterrent. Nobody ever believes that they are the one who is unprepared, has bad judgment, and might ever need assistance. How exactly would it work? Someone gets frostbite at Marcy Dam and needs help getting out would get fined because they didn’t bring dry socks? But a technical climber with all the gear in the world slips and falls and requires an expensive helicopter rescue, but gets no fine because they were totally prepared? In recent years there have been numerous rescues of people who were totally prepared, but just made mistakes or had an accident. If we start making it illegal to have bad judgment we’d better start building more prisons.

    • Paul says:

      I saw a guy trail running up Wrights peak one time. All he had on was a pair of running shoes and a pair of runners shorts. He was totally prepared for a trail run! I was on the same trail and looked like a sherpa with enough stuff for a week. We were both fully prepared.

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