Retired NASA astronaut rescued after falling 500 feet on Colorado 14er

The view from the summit of La Plata Peak. Photo Credit: Spencer McKee

Retired NASA astronaut Jeffrey Ashby was severely injured after falling 500 feet into a snowy rock field near the summit of Colorado’s 14,360-foot La Plata Peak on Monday, July 15, 2019, according to a press release from the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office.

Nearby hikers heard Ashby screaming for help and contacted authorities. Search and rescue teams scoured the area for several hours before noticing a light flashing below the summit. Unable to reach Ashby because of steep, technical terrain, Flight for Life was called in to assist with identifying his exact location.

According to a report from CBS Denver, Ashby crawled 100 feet from where he landed to get into range for other hikers to hear his calls.

After locating Ashby on a snowfield, a second helicopter flew in and dropped a search and rescue team member near the summit. That person hiked down the steep terrain to reach and stabilize Ashby at approximately 3:00 a.m. Tuesday.

A helicopter from the Army National Guard High Altitude Training Center was used to hoist Ashby from the mountain at approximately 7:30 a.m. Tuesday. He then was transferred to Summit Medical Center by a Flight For Life copter and treated for possible fractures.

La Plata Peak is the fifth highest 14er in Colorado, located in the Sawatch Range near Buena Vista. To reach the summit, hikers have the option of three different routes, ranging from class 2 climbing to class 3 climbing (5 is the most difficult).

Technical, snowy terrain, high-altitude conditions and the remoteness of Ashby’s location made this mountain rescue complex. A big round of thanks goes out to the search and rescue crews involved, including Chaffee County Search and Rescue North and South, The Colorado Search and Rescue Association, Search and Rescue Board of Colorado, and the Colorado Army National Guard High Altitude Training Center.

Search and rescue teams rely solely on donations, grants and contributions to operate. For more details on purchasing a CORSAR card in support of these rescue operations across the state, click here.

Hiking and climbing accidents happen more often than you think. Do not attempt to climb any 14er in Colorado without making sure you are fully prepared. Check the weather in the area and familiarize yourself with the trail before you go. Always be sure to let someone know where you’re going, the trail you plan to follow and what time you’re expected to return. Stay safe out there and, most importantly, be adventurous!



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