Firefighters rescue stuck snowmachiner

Woman tipped over snowmachine in deep gully near McNeil Canyon.

Kachemak Emergency Services firefighters last Wednesday rescued a Homer snowmachiner stuck in a gully north of McNeil Canyon. After an early-morning search of about an hour, firefighters brought Terra Murphy, 49, to safety. According to an Alaska State Troopers dispatch, Murphy was taken to South Peninsula Hospital with a minor injury and hypothermia.

“This one had a happy ending,” said KES Chief Bob Cicciarella.

He said firefighters mounted the rescue from the Ashwood Avenue fire station near Mile 12 East End Road. Murphy had called trooper dispatch at about 1:20 a.m. Feb. 9, and firefighters kept in cell phone contact with her as they conducted the search. Murphy got stuck in a deep gully about 2.5 miles north of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities sand pile near McNeil Canyon Elementary School.

“She was in a ravine snowmachiners tell me a lot of people get pulled out of,” Cicciarella said.

Four firefighters went out on three snowmachines. At one point Murphy said she could hear the firefighters talking at the top of the ravine and see their headlights. She had a flashlight with her, and firefighters saw her she when shined the light toward them.

“Probably if it wasn’t spotting that flashlight, we would have had a rough time finding her,” Cicciarella said.

Cicciarella said rescuers had GPS coordinates, but they were way off. Rescuers also recovered Murphy’s snowmachine.

Murphy had gone snowmachining about 7 p.m. the night before. She got stuck in the ravine, tipped over her snowmachine, and then got tired and cold trying to dig out. Murphy injured her leg in the process of trying to get unstuck. Murphy had warm clothing but no snowshoes.

Snow in the area was waist deep, with temperatures about 8 degrees in the high country near McNeil Canyon. Cicciarella said if Murphy hadn’t had good cellphone service and a flashlight, “it would have been a body recovery. That’s how cold it was.”

Cicciarella said snowmachiners should have emergency locators and rescue alert devices like an InReach unit. People also should not drive alone at night, he said.

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