At 2018, the chief pilot maneuvered above the hiker and flew toward the landing area. He told the dispatcher to tell the hiker to walk in the direction the helicopter was flying. The hiker again said she could not see very well. The shift supervisor encouraged the hiker to walk up the hill but said an officer would also walk down the hill to find her. By 2019, the sun had set in the Santa Fe area, and lighting conditions had officially transitioned to dusk.
At about 2022, the chief pilot landed the helicopter in a large clearing on top of a ridge and shut down the engines. The spotter opened his door and felt a blast of cold westerly wind that was strong enough to “blow him over.” He estimated the wind speed was 30 mph. It was beginning to sleet. He called the dispatcher at 2030 and told her the helicopter had landed. The dispatcher tried to connect him with the hiker's cell phone, but she could not get through to the hiker. The dispatcher asked if the spotter knew where the hiker was located. The spotter said yes, and he asked the dispatcher if the hiker was walking up the hill. The dispatcher said, “No . . . She does not want to move.” The spotter said he would confer with the chief pilot about what to do and call the dispatcher back.
At 2033, the chief pilot called the dispatcher and said, “Hey, I don't know what this lady wants us to do . . . I'm going to walk down the hill here a little bit. It's going to start snowing up here and if it does that, I've got to get the hell out of here.”
The dispatcher told the chief pilot that the ground SAR incident commander was on the other line and was asking for his coordinates. The chief pilot replied, “Well, you can tell him I'll get it to him as soon as I can . . . I'm going to walk down this hill a little way. I'm going to leave [the spotter] with the helicopter. If you talk to [the hiker], tell her to start blowing her whistle and [to] listen for me yelling, OK?” He said he knew the hiker's general location, and he added, “I'm not going to spend a lot of time or we're going to have two search and rescues. Just tell her to start blowing her [expletive] whistle and I'll try to find her, OK? Because it's right off this hill here, I think.” This call ended at 2035.
The chief pilot told the spotter to stay with the helicopter; he was going to “go down and yell for [the hiker] a little bit” and return to the helicopter if he got no response. He gave the spotter a cigarette lighter and told him to build a fire if he got really cold, and then the chief pilot walked toward a tree line located about 100 yd. away from the helicopter and disappeared down a slope. The spotter noted it was “sleeting like crazy” and the wind was “insane.” He was shivering with cold inside the helicopter.
At 2038, the SAR incident commander contacted the dispatcher and told her that SAR ground teams could “go up and get [the hiker] just as well.” He added that it would “take a little longer,” but he did not want the chief pilot to “get in trouble.”
At 2045, the dispatcher reached the hiker on her cell phone. She encouraged the hiker to blow a whistle or yell and look for the chief pilot. At 2053, the dispatcher could hear the pilot and the hiker yelling to each other. The cell call ended.
At 2113, the area commander called the dispatcher and said that he was concerned about the helicopter because SAR commanders had received no direct communications from the chief pilot and weather conditions were deteriorating in the mountains. The dispatcher connected the area commander with the spotter's cell phone. The spotter said the wind was blowing, the clouds were moving in, it was cold, and he was concerned because the chief pilot had left the helicopter without his flashlight and it was getting dark outside.
The area commander told the spotter that if the weather deteriorated to the point where they could not take off, ground teams would try to assist them. In that event, they should “hang tight” in the helicopter and use its engines to generate heat until help arrived. At 2122, the dispatcher told the acting lieutenant she had not heard from the chief pilot since he left the helicopter and that bad weather had since moved into the search area. The acting lieutenant said, “What do we do?” The dispatcher said she did not know. The acting lieutenant asked if SAR teams were on the way to the area. The dispatcher said yes. The acting lieutenant said, “Well, they're going to have to just shore it up for tonight and fly out tomorrow.” The acting lieutenant said he would call the spotter directly, but did not do so.
About this time, the chief pilot and the hiker were approaching the helicopter. The spotter heard them in the darkness, so he grabbed the flashlight, exited the helicopter, and found them 35 or 40 yd. away from the helicopter. At 2124, the spotter contacted the shift supervisor and reported that the chief pilot and the hiker had arrived at the helicopter. The shift supervisor asked what they were going to do. The spotter said, “I don't know, let me talk to [the chief pilot]. He's getting some heat on right now. He's a little out of breath. He was [carrying the hiker up the hill].”