Riverside PD’s AIR-1 makes dangerous “one-skid landing” rescue from Sugarloaf Mtn

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RIVERSIDE – Riverside Police Department’s Aviation Support Unit made an incredibly difficult rescue of a stranded hiker look easy when the helicopter’s pilot made not one, but two separate mountainside “one-skid” landings during a Friday, May 26 remote-area rescue.

The victim, who officials only identified as a “young adult female hiker,” was rescued from Riverside’s Sugarloaf Mountain, which is near the University of California Riverside campus. She was later evaluated by medical personnel and reportedly declined further medical treatment.

Northbound aerial view of Sugarloaf Mountain, northwest of Moreno Valley and east of Riverside.

The incident began about 10:40 a.m., when City of Riverside emergency dispatchers received several 911 calls from citizens reporting that a person was possibly stranded and in need of help on the mountain.

911 callers could not see the subject but believed the person was possibly in trouble because they were yelling for help and whistling loudly.

Riverside PD’s AIR-1 performs a dangerous one-skid landing while rescuing a stranded hiker. RPD photo

Riverside PD’s Air Support Unit “AIR-1” responded to the mountain and began to search the area. The aviation crew quickly located a hiker who was signalling to them.

Because of the person’s remote location, AIR-1 landed on a ridge-line to make contact with the hiker, officials explained.

Once on the ground, the aircrew learned the person was actually one of the 911 callers who was trying to climb the mountain to get to and help the stranded hiker.

He directed the aircrew further up the mountain in the direction he had heard a female calling out and whistling for help.

AIR-1 flew further up the mountain and the aircrew was eventually able to locate a woman “about three-fourths of the way up the mountain on the side of a large rock,” officials explained.

Aircrew members used the helicopter’s PA loudspeaker to determine if the stranded hiker could hike the rest of the way to the top of the mountain where the helicopter could safely land and recover the victim from the mountain.

The stranded woman indicated she could not hike any further.

Because of the jagged, rocky landscape on the steep mountainside, AIR-1’s pilot – Riverside Police Officer Jeff Ratkovich – determined a conventional landing and rescue were impossible.

Despite the tremendous danger, Ratkovich made the decision to attempt a difficult, “one-skid, hover-landing” on a large rock near where the victim was stranded.

Riverside PD Officer and Pilot Ratkovich performed the difficult one-skid landing while rescuing a stranded hiker. Ratkovich LinkedIn photo

Ratkovich, who joined Riverside Police Department in 2006, previously served in the U.S. Army/California Army National Guard for 13 years; first as a Flight Medic from 1992 until 1998 and then as a UH-60 Black Hawk Crew Chief from 2001 until 2008.

The officer and pilot, who also previously worked at American West Airlines for seven years as an Aircraft Maintenance Technician and worked on the Boeing 737 and 757 as well as Airbus A319 and A320 fleets, received training in airframe and power-plant mechanics and aircraft maintenance at Northrop-Rice Institute of Technology.

Drawing upon his years of flying experience Ratkovich safely managed to perform the one skid landing – hovering in position long enough to allow Riverside Police Sgt. Erik Lindgren to quickly exit the helicopter and make contact with the stranded hiker.

Lindgren determined the hiker was not injured, but was unable to make it down off the mountain on her own.

Lindgren located a slightly safer landing zone, but Ratkovich would still be required to perform a one-skid landing on the mountain.

While Ratkovich hovered along-side the mountain, using just one of the helicopter’s landing skids to expertly balance the nearly 2,000 pound, 1982 Hughes MD 500 helicopter in position, Lindgren quickly and cautiously helped the exhausted hiker into the back seat of the helicopter.

Riverside PD’s “Air-1” performs a dangerous one-skid landing while rescuing a stranded hiker. RPD photo

Once the hiker was safely secured in the helicopter, the flight crew flew her down to the east end of Marlborough Avenue where City of Riverside Fire Department and American Medical Response medics were were staged and waiting to evaluate the victim.

Officials later determined the hiker had decided to try climbing up the mountain earlier that morning.

As the hiker neared the top of the mountain, “she became tired and disoriented,” said officials. From that point, she was too exhausted to continue and could not find her way off the steep mountainside where she was later found.

After the rescue, City of Riverside officials took the opportunity to remind citizen’s that although the city has “many beautiful places to hike and explore,” when citizen’s make the decision to go hiking they should take along basic essentials, such as a map, signal-whistle, flashlight, mirror or other signalling device and other safety items.

More than anything, officials say hikers should have a well-thought out plan.

Hikers, especially those choosing to hike alone, should always let someone know where they are going and when they are planning on returning. They should make sure to wear and/or bring along appropriate clothing, bring plenty of water and/or other means of hydration, always carry a fully charged cell phone or other communication device, bring along food or provisions and anything else necessary for a safe and memorable hike.

Officials also cautioned citizens to have the “necessary physical fitness” needed for whatever adventure they decide to embark upon.

Riverside PD’s “Air-1” safely returns a stranded hiker to the bottom of Sugarloaf Mountain, where she was evaluated by medical personnel. RPD photo


Contact the writer: trevor.rcns@gmail.com

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Trevor Montgomery runs Riverside County News Source and Shasta County News Source. Additionally, he writes for Riverside County based newspapers, Valley News and Anza Valley Outlook and also writes for Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County.

Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg and breaking his back in an off-duty accident.

During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations, including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center and Lake Elsinore Station, along with other locations.

Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.

Trevor has been married for more than 26 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and has 13 children and 12 – soon to be 13 – grandchildren.