Jason Kandel

OC Sheriff’s Helicopter Team Lauded for Plucking Trapped Teen Hikers Off Cliff

Orange County Sheriff's Air Support rescue rushed to save teenagers stuck on a steep cliff several hundreds of feet in the air on a rainy day last January.

The Sheriff's Aviation Support Unit's ready to respond to hikers in trouble, but what happened last January was a challenge.

Bill Fitzgerald, a pilot, said they have a lot of these kinds of rescues but this one was different.

Three teenagers, out for a hike in Lake Forest, were trapped. One was hanging to a bush hundreds of feet up a steep cliff at Whiting Ranch.

"All it would have taken is one slip and she would have gone tumbling," said Jason McLennan, a medic.

"They had apparently climbed from the bottom of the trail to the top and they got to a point where it was too steep to climb up. And also too steep to climb down," said Jim Slikker, a rescue flight medic.

Slikker made his way to the teen in the most trouble, hunkered down and held on.

"She said, 'Please don't let me fall,'" he said.

Because he could not safely move left or right without risking a fall, the pilot and hoist operator would have to put the hook right into the rescue medic's hand.

"It didn't look like she had much longer," Fitzgerald said.

Despite the wind, Fitzgerald held the chopper in a steady hover.

He kept the air speed up until they got to the cliff and maneuvered into position. The teen and her friends were lifted out just in time.

"It's a good feeling to know that you actually helped somebody," McLennan said.

"We got to save all three so it was a good day," Slikker said.

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