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LASD - Malibu/Lost Hills Station, Los Angeles County Sheriff
Friday September 23rd, 2011 :: 06:20 p.m. PDT


Trapped On 500’ Sheer Cliff in Topanga, 24-yr Old Woman’s Life Saved. LASD Air-5 Rescue Helmet-cam

Click on the hyperlink at the bottom of this message to see photos from the deputies helmet-cams.

Click here to watch the compelling sheriff’s helmet-cam rescue footage on youtube:

Trapped On 500’ Sheer Cliff in Topanga, 24-yr Old Woman’s Life Saved. LASD Air-5 Rescue Helmet-cam

Clinging to the side of a sheer vertical cliff 500 feet from the canyon floor, a terrified 24-year old woman was rescued by the Sheriff’s Air-5 Rescue crew less than an hour before nightfall Thursday.

The hiker found herself trapped in a seated position for over two hours with one hand grasping the sandstone cliff side, after her climbing partner led her over the side for a rock climbing experience.

After scaling about forty feet down the nearly vertical rock known as “Eagle Rock” in Topanga State Park, they realized the climb was far more dangerous than they had thought.

The man was able to climb back up to the top of the cliff, and made a weak makeshift safety line in an attempt to give her something to hang onto. Lack of cell phone reception kept the two of them in their positions until the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was notified nearly two hours later.

Sheriff’s Air-5 Rescue immediately flew to the scene, arriving at 6:30PM, and were surprised to see the young woman clinging to the cliff side in Topanga.

The rescuers saw she was wearing running clothing and shoes, not climbing gear.

She was also running out of time.

“We were about an hour from darkness,” said Sergeant Phil Barth, Sheriff’s Air-5 Rescue Crew Chief. “At night, we have to wear night vision goggles, which limits your field of vision to about a third and is ten times as difficult for us to make rescues.”

As Sheriff’s pilot Deputy Mark Burnett and Co-pilot Tom Bogdan brought the rescue helicopter in close to the sheer cliff, Sgt. Barth prepared the hoist and lowered his fellow Emergency Services Detail partner, Sheriff’s Paramedic Deputy Mark Desmarteau, from the aircraft.

As Deputy Desmarteau left the aircraft, he began to spin as he hung from the hoist cable beneath the helicopter.

“The wind and rotor wash against the rock face creates a vortex and we sometimes start spinning out of control as we leave the aircraft “ Deputy Desmarteau said. “I pointed to a place on the cliff face away from the woman, so the Crew Chief would know where to position me, and so I could stop the spin by grasping the cliff.” He added, “The Crew Chief has to position the hoist exactly right as he lowers the rescue paramedics into a place where we can make the rescue. If the Crew Chief misses, I could become an unwilling battering ram.”

The Crew Chief, Sergeant Barth said, “We have to be spot-on, especially with someone hanging from a cliff like that. If not exactly right, we could accidentally knock her off the cliff. The teamwork on these missions is essential and we all depend on each other.”

Once they were able to stop the spinning and Deputy Desmarteau got a hold of the cliff face, he worked his way across the cliff until he was in a position to reach out his arms and place a safety harness around her waist.

“The rock face is loose sandstone rock so it is difficult to get a good grasp, even in good conditions,” said Deputy Desmarteau.

When he reached her, she shouted over the noise of the helicopter, “Please don’t let go. Please don’t let go.”

“She had a death grip on the ledge and I told her she had to let go, said Deputy Desmarteau. “I had to pry her fingers off of the rock.”

“It’s understandable and common given the circumstances,” said Deputy Desmarteau. “There is no surviving that fall.”

Deputy Desmarteau added that when people are in this type of dire position, they are often frozen in terror. “She did a great job helping save her own life by finding the only spot where she could get into a seated position, stayed there for over two hours getting sunburned in 96 degree heat, and found a spot where she could hold onto the cliff face with one hand. She was terrified, but remained in a calm state during the rescue.”
The pitch of the cliff where she was rescued is nearly vertical and 500’ from the canyon floor. A few hundred feet below, the rock face is inverted (it pitches backwards), and is impossible for anyone to climb without falling to their death.

“It’s the fabulous flying skills of the pilot, and outstanding hoist work and voice commands to the pilot from the Crew Chief that makes these rescue possible,” said Deputy Desmarteau. “I feel like I’m a monkey on a string. Without their skill in placing me at the right place at the right moment, many people would not survive. We all feel it’s an honor to be allowed to help people out of dire situations.”

LASD Air-5 Rescue pilots and Emergency Services Detail rescue paramedic hoisted her up from face of the cliff and into the helicopter. She suffered only minor injuries.

Once in the helicopter she said, “Thank you, thank you,” and gave each of the deputies a big hug.


Sergeant Phil Barth, Sheriff’s Air-5 Rescue Crew Chief said: “Always be prepared when you go into the back country and don’t overestimate your abilities. Always tell people where you are going and don’t count on your cell phone to work in nature.”

The Air-5 Rescue helicopter crew and the eight Search and Rescue teams of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department average about 350 search and rescue missions every year, making it one of the most active counties for search and rescue missions in the nation.

Enjoy Nature - Plan your Hike by filling out the Sheriff's Department's Hiking Plan Sheet:

Hiking/Camping is a fun way to get family and friends together to enjoy the outdoors, and to get some physical activity. However, you should always be prepared for the unexpected. You should tell family and friends what your plans are and provide a list of who will be going with you. That’s why the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department would like to remind the residents of Los Angeles County that having a hiking / camping plan is crucial to survival in case of an emergency.

Before you leave, please fill out Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue – Hiking Plan sheet and provide to a loved one to hold onto just in case something happens to a member of your hiking/camping expedition. You can download the form by visiting:

If you would like more information on how to prepare for your hiking / camping trip, please visit the Center for Disease Control’s camping website at:

Captain Mike Parker
Sheriff’s Headquarters Bureau – Newsroom
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
(323) 267-4800
Twitter @LASD_News!/LASD_News

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(See rescue photos by clicking on the hyperlink below)

LASD - Malibu/Lost Hills Station, Los Angeles County Sheriff
27050 Agoura Rd
Calabasas, CA 91301

Emergency: 9-1-1
Non-emergencies: 818-878-1808

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