Rescue on Mount Tamalpais

A woman was rescued in a dramatic aerial operation on Mount Tamalpais on Wednesday after her vehicle plunged 200 feet down a cliff and crashed, leaving her vehicle teetering on the edge of the rocky hill as she awaited help, authorities reported. "The only thing that stopped her was a tree," said tactical flight officer Larry Matelli, a member of the team that carried out the rescue, to SFGATE on Thursday morning. Images shared by the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office are not suitable for sensitive viewers, as they show the team grabbing a 200-foot-long rope and descending deeply among the redwoods to reach the woman and hoist her to safety. The flight crew operating the department's Henry-1 emergency helicopter unit monitors 30 different agencies throughout the Bay Area and offered assistance when they heard initial reports of the accident near Panoramic Highway and the Pantoll Ranger Station of the Marin County Fire Department, Matelli said. "Knowing that area from previous rescues, it's very, very difficult terrain and steep conditions," he said. "As soon as we heard that call, we said we could get down there to help." The Henry-1 helicopter unit trains daily and averages between 50 and 70 rescues per year, from hikers clinging to cliff sides, including one at Battery Alexander in Mill Valley in March, to swimmers drowning in oceans and rivers, as well as other medical emergencies on trails. It took them about 20 minutes to fly from Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport, where the helicopter is based, to the accident location. Fire personnel had already located the vehicle, but Matelli had concerns about how the team would conduct the rescue. "We weren't sure if we could get down there because the trees are very tall," he said. Flying just 10 feet above the dense brush, the Henry-1 eventually landed on a ridge overlooking the ocean. After coordinating with the incident commander, they decided to deploy a long-line system, using the rope to reach the woman and place her in a hot seat-type rescue device, which Matelli described as "kind of a jacket" that hooks onto the collection plate, a ring-shaped mechanism at the bottom of the rope. They gave her a helmet to put on her head, and they went up. "What a ride!" she says in the video over the roar of the helicopter, seeming to have a good humor about it. "Thank you, guys. I'm so sorry for all this trouble." "No trouble at all," a crew member jokes in response. Matelli said that in those intense moments of a rescue, he usually tries to pull out something positive to help the person stay as calm and relaxed as possible. "Obviously, hanging from the bottom of a helicopter is very stressful, especially when you've just crashed a car downhill," he said with a laugh. "But hey, at least you can see some pretty cool scenery." The paramedic in the helicopter determined the woman's injuries, who was not identified, were minor and she was subsequently taken to an ambulance, but appeared to be in stable condition. And her car? "That's going to be totaled," Matelli said. "It went quite far down the cliff. If it weren't for that tree, it probably would have kept going all the way down, and it could have been a different story. She might not have been able to get out of that." The California Highway Patrol is investigating the cause of the accident, Matelli said.  
Location: Mt Tamalpais, Marin, California 94941, United States
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