Veteran hunter with broken hips rescued afer 31 hours on bluff
The 60-year-old wine grower from Napa has been hunting in northern Lassen County for 30 years, but undoubtedly never expected to spend 31 hours almost a mile up a mountain with a broken hip.
Fitch, took off around 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct 17, from a friend’s house in Bieber wearing camouflage hunting gear, carrying a walkie-talkie and riding a Honda ATV with no helmet, just hunting gear, according to the Sheriff’s Department report.
He climbed a bluff with an almost 75-degree incline on the west side of the fourth butte outside of Bieber at Muck Valley below the dam. Losing his footing, Fitch fell and broke his hip.
“I can’t explain how steep it was,” Holman said. “When you’re dropping down to Susanville on Antelope grade and you’re looking across the valley to Antelope Mountain … that’s what it looks like.”
At 1:17 a.m. on Wednesday, his friends in Bieber called to say Fitch and had not returned. Search and Rescue, Sheriff’s Deputy Pete Holman and a CHP helicopter began a search at 9:05 p.m. The deputy and the volunteers searched on foot, by four-wheel drive vehicle and by four-wheeler.
Holman said Fitch was taking shots throughout the night, three at a time. After 22-23 shots he was running out of ammo and started shooting one shot at a time. Fitch was talking on the radio and people camping about two miles away as the crow flies could hear him.
“He wasn’t hearing them,” Holman said. “He talking in the blind, trying to get someone to hear him.”
Apparently the CHP helicopter that was searching all day on Wednesday just missed Fitch by half a mile.
“He saw them going over,” Holman said. “He had traveled a lot further than we had thought he would.”
The campers started climbing and he signaled them with a flashlight. They reached and contacted Search and Rescue, saying Fitch “was hurt, out of water and would not make it another night.”
Rescuers climbed three-quarters of a mile to reach him “but it felt like 10 miles,” Holman said.
They gave Fitch some morphine for his pain, put him on a stretcher and climbed back down the hill two miles up from the reservoir going west on Red Cinder Road toward the power plant.
“It was everything but rappelling,” Holman said. “We were slipping and sliding the whole way down.”
The climb up and back down with the stretcher took about three hours. Fitch was joking with his rescuers and in good spirits, Holman said.
“That’s what it took to keep this guy alive all that time,” he said. “He’s a good guy and the family are good people. They were so thankful; they wouldn’t shut up. Of course, when you do something like that you never get tired of hearing the good stuff.”
A helicopter landed, picked him up and he was taken to Mercy Hospital in Redding.
Holman said he told the family he was doing the job he’s paid for. But Holman said the search and rescue volunteers don’t get paid and have to buy their own gear.
“They want to make a donation to search and rescue,” Holman said. “They were so impressed with how they worked.”
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