'It's killing me': Hiker trapped under a boulder for seven hours reunited with his rescuers

ByTim Sarquis Localish logo
Tuesday, April 30, 2024
'It's killing me': Hiker trapped under a boulder for seven hours reunited with his rescuers
Trapped under a boulder in the California wilderness, Kevin Depaolo hopes for survival were slim, until a daring rescue brought him to safety.

Lemoore, CA -- "It was December 5th, not a cloud in the sky," recalls Kevin Depaolo, an adventurist who's visited 49 out of 50 states in a van that he customized himself. "It was sort of the scenario that you'd expect something to go wrong, unfortunately."

That scenario was a rock hounding trip high in the California wilderness between the Sierra Nevada and the Inyo Mountains. "It's desolate. I was there for five days and I didn't see a single person." Fortunately, Depaolo wasn't alone. He and a friend were digging for interesting rocks that lay beneath the surface near large boulders that have been sitting for thousands of years untouched. "We were digging and I sat back to rest and all of a sudden my friend yells 'Kevin look out!' and before I can even look up, this giant boulder just nails my entire body."

I kept yelling, 'you have to get it off! It's killing me!

Depaolo was trapped. The boulder pushed him onto his back, crushing his pelvis and threatening to roll further down the hill. Depaolo's friend quickly takes his pick axe, lodging it under the boulder to keep it from rolling further and injuring Depaolo even more. "I kept yelling, 'you have to get it off! Its killing me!" Depaolo was able to free his left leg, revealing one of his major injuries, a severed artery that the boulder was applying pressure to keeping him from bleeding out.

"My friend then called for help, but my right leg remained trapped and that's where we spent the next seven hours." There's only one road in and out of the area and where Depaolo was trapped, it took him and his friend two hours to hike there. The Inyo County Search and Rescue team that was dispatched to find Depaolo spent six hours on the phone with his friend to pin point their location. Depaolo recalls seeing a helicopter spot them and circling a few times, only to fly off. It was several hours later until help arrived.

"It was dark at that point, about 8pm, when I finally saw the headlamps coming over the ridge. The guys immediately started getting to work." The Inyo County Search and Rescue team devised an unique pulley system to lift the 10,000lb boulder off Depaolo's leg. Drilling two bolts into the boulder and a rope to an anchor drilled into a massive boulder down the hill, the Search and Rescue team was able to lift the boulder with the help of a high lift jack, a special tool used to free large off-road vehicles. Once Depaolo was free, the immense pain started to hit. "At that point we needed to get to the hospital. But we were in such a remote area, there's no way they could carry me down the hill. We needed external help."

The California Highway Patrol was originally tasked with airlifting Depaolo out, but once the sun went down, there was nothing they could do as their helicopters aren't fitted for night rescues. Depaolo faced the possibility of spending the night on the mountain, where temperatures fall below freezing. Knowing that he may not make it through the night, Inyo County Search and Rescue made a call to the nearby Naval Air Station in Lemoore, where their elite Search and Rescue team is equipped for night rescues in their helicopter.

"The ground crew was able to send us an exact lat and long. There was nowhere safe to land. The only safe place was miles away." HM2 Matthew Rector was the medical tech on the mission who repelled down to package up and lift Depaolo off the mountainside. From there it was a 45 minute flight to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, CA. It was there Depaolo learned the extent of his injuries. A severed femoral artery, a fractured pelvis in two places and dead tissue in his leg from the impact of the boulder which led to many surgeries and a skin graft.

Fast forward three months and Depaolo is recovering well. He's able to walk and take short trips, including back to NAS Lemoore to meet his rescuers for the first time since seeing them in the Inyo Mountains. "Seeing those guys and interacting with them, they're extremely cool guys. It was a life changing experience. I think about those guys almost every day of my life." What's next for Depaolo? "Its inspired me in a way that I want to give back and help people in the same way they were able to help me."

Watch the show "9-1-1" at 8 p.m. ET/PT Thursdays on ABC.

Related Topics