When fellow rider injures herself, locals make sure to help
When Sean “Sully” Sullivan rolled into the Turnagain parking lot on a bluebird spring day in April of 2013, the only thing on his mind was the epic day of riding that lay ahead. He and his childhood friend Jacob Wolf could never get their hectic schedules to align, so when they both had the day off they jumped at the opportunity to lay some tracks on the backside of Turny. Sully’s trusty Polaris Assault sat attractively in the bed of his truck, a brand-new 860 big-bore kit concealed beneath the unassuming panels. He couldn’t wait to see how she performed. The two friends worked fast and furious to get unloaded and geared up, and just as they were putting their packs on, a young lady raced up to them in clear distress. She informed them that a woman had wrecked in a nearby creek and was badly injured, needing immediate medical attention. Without hesitation Jake and Sully were following a perfect stranger into a situation of complete unknowns.
Tim and Deb Forsythe, being Anchorage residents, typically rode further north, but after purchasing a new sled at auction they decided to test it out on the front side of Turnagain. They had been riding on and off for hours when the new sled started overheating on them, so they decided to call it a day. Tim was following Deb back to the truck when an unsteady ice bridge gave way beneath her, throwing both the sled and Deb into the creek eight feet below, where she fell face down in a foot of icy cold water.
Tim quickly responded and was able to get his wife out of the water and upright on her sled. She was in an incredible amount of pain, and it was evident she needed medical assistance. Tim ran the 50 yards toward the busy Seward Highway that runs diagonal from the creek bed. Motorists didn’t recognize his distress signals and he was unable to flag anyone down until a group of snowmachiners came by and offered their support.
One of them, Seville Henney, was active Coast Guard. Henney was able to determine as soon as she reached Deb that something needed to be done, and quick. Firing up her sled, she went for help – which brings us back to our story.
As they neared the creek crossing, Sully’s heart sank. Sitting on the embankment was a woman soaked to the bone and in tremendous pain. He immediately started to assess Forsythe, gauging how dire the situation was. He could tell her wrist was broken due to the swelling, and she also indicated that she had injured her back and leg, leaving her unable to move. Sully was concerned about hypothermia as well, so he retrieved a dry sweatshirt from his pack. They quickly removed as many of Forsythe’s wet clothes as possible. If there was one thing this extreme sports enthusiast and former Marine never left home without was his med kit and this wasn’t your mothers med kit either. Like all things in Sully’s possession, it had been exceptionally modified. He removed a SAM splint from his med kit and secured her wrist with a triangular bandage. Without cell service, calling for a rescue was out of the question, and not knowing the full extent of her injuries the clock was ticking. They had to act fast, and they needed a plan.
Fortunately, Sully was already formulating one.
The quickest way out was to traverse the 50 yards to the highway, so Sully rode his sled back to the parking lot and exchanged it for his truck. He drove the Ford down the highway and parked it where they could access it from the creek below. Grabbing a sheet of plywood from the truck bed, he traversed over the berm and through the softening spring snow to Forsythe and the others. The rescue was going to be challenging, and keeping Forsythe stable was key. Sully instructed the others on how to carefully put Deb on the plywood gurney, while he braced her neck, using skills he had obtained in a first responder course offered at work.
Once they had her on, they placed the makeshift gurney on a snowmobile. With someone at every side and corner they slowly inched Forsythe out, Sully manning the throttle setting pace and everyone steadily walking alongside. Once they reached the berm they carried the gurney the rest of the way by hand, post-holing with each step up the embankment.
Once in the bed of the truck, Forsythe was transferred to her husband’s vehicle in the parking lot and the two made their journey to nearby Girdwood. Paramedics met them upon their arrival noticing that Forsythe was in the early stages of shock. She was transported to Anchorage via ambulance, where doctors were able to confirm her broken wrist, which required immediate surgery. She also had a fractured knee, compression fracture to her spine, a torn tendon in her bicep, and a ruptured rotator cuff. Although her injuries were substantial, none were life threatening.
Forsythe is still recovering from her injuries, but her passion for riding hasn’t waned. Once she gets a clean bill of health she plans to get back into riding. Seville Henney was recognized by the Coast Guard and given an award for her role in the rescue. As for Sully and Jake, they went on to ride the rest of that day without event – and it was as epic as they had anticipated.
The lesson we can take away from the Forsythe’s incredible story of survival is that sometimes circumstances are out of our control. Being prepared for wilderness emergency situations and being able to quickly think on their feet helped mitigate Forsythe’s injuries. It is imperative that you and the people you ride with are trained in basic first aid and that your packs and vehicles are properly stocked in case of emergency. You never know when a day of riding can turn into a life-and-death situation.