The SAR team in action, transporting mountain biker Michelle Prins from Terrace Mountain after she met with an accident on Sept. 9. (Submitted Photo/Dave Jephson)

Biker rescued from Terrace Mountain says SAR team’s response averted a catastrophic outcome

Michelle Prins’ experience of the rescue operation left her grateful for B.C.’s emergency services

Terrace resident Michelle Prins had a harrowing experience earlier this month when a routine mountain biking adventure went awfully wrong.

On the afternoon of Sept. 9, Michelle had a crash on Terrace Mountain and had to be airlifted and taken to the hospital.

Prins, who is in her 50’s, has been mountain biking “her whole life” and had ridden the particular trail near the back-end of Shangri-La where she had the accident, “a 100 times before.”

“I tried to do a feature on the trail that I had only done a couple of times before,” said Prins in a phone interview from her home where she is recovering.

The four-foot-drop, labelled on the trail as a double black diamond feature is very controllable, according to Michelle.

“But if you don’t do it right, you end up injured.”

And that day it seemed like the drop went pretty wrong.

“So I ended up in a big crash where I landed on my face and kind of lost feeling in my arms and hands and there was a lot of concern about my spine and just the general state of me.”

Even though she woke up to a pool of blood and a smashed nose, Michelle said she didn’t panic, since her husband, Dean, a first responder himself, who was biking with her, was very calm, collected and kept her focused.

Thankfully they both had their cellphones and Dean, a fire captain with the Terrace Fire Department, placed an emergency call that ultimately led to the Search and Rescue team being activated through the fire department.

While Michelle is friends with and knew of the efficiency of the SAR team, she never imagined ever being the subject of their rescue operation.

Within moments, the team figured out the best means to extract her from the mountain and get her down to the hospital. The response was a standard protocol that the team was trained for said Dave Jephson, vice-president of the Terrace SAR.

“But I was a little tensed since I’ve known Michelle for over 30 years, and wanted to get her out of there as soon as possible,” said Jephson.

Two teams arrived at the spot of the accident a little after they received the call around 1:53 p.m – one by land and the other by helicopter.

The SAR team that drove up the mountain got to Michelle first and explained what the plan was, and wrapped her up in blankets as they waited for the helicopter to arrive.

While waiting, Michelle said there was a lot going on through her mind especially with regards to the injuries.

Two SAR members long lined down from the chopper, secured her to a stretcher, and lifted her up underneath the helicopter.

“It was all just so extremely orderly and calm and competent, that I just felt like I was in the best hands I could possibly be in,” said Michelle.

“People like Andrew (Johnstone), Dave and Dean, are people that I’ve known forever and I know how confident and competent they are, but to be on that receiving end of them in action, I just felt like I was in the arms of family. They gave me a different perspective on the level of professionalism that the emergency services carry in their activities.”

She wasn’t afraid of crashing into trees while being lifted up but there was a small moment of panic when the helicopter was hovering over her and it washed some of the hemlock needles onto her face and into her eyes.

Completely strapped on to the stretcher with a spine collar on, Michelle could not move and was breathing through her mouth. “It was very difficult to breathe and swallow because there was so much blood flowing down into my throat,” she said about the panic moment as hemlock needles started coming down on her.

“One of the SAR members, Carmen, saw that I was panicking and she immediately was pulling the needles off my face and blocking my face so that the needles weren’t falling and then once we were being lifted through the canopy, Andrew, started doing that and protecting my face, and it just took all of the fear away,” she said, and added, “for whatever reasons that was my biggest worry at the time was needles falling in my face and down my throat.”

Once up in the air, Michelle said all she could see was the beautiful blue sky.

“I kept waiting to feel the swaying under the helicopter but it felt very smooth and hardly felt any movement –it was just really quite a calm ride.”

Michelle was flown to a landing spot near Hidden Acres where an ambulance was waiting to take her to Mills Memorial Hospital.

She was accessed with multiple injuries – a spinal cord injury left her with a pinched nerve leading to pain in her arms, a broken nose and cheekbone that was causing her eyeball to drop. After ruling out a surgery in Vancouver, Michelle was allowed to go home to recuperate that same night.

While she warns everyone to be extra responsible while engaging in extreme sports, Michelle is also extremely thankful for the emergency services operating in B.C.

“I’m spending a lot of time being so appreciative of the systems that were in place and how quickly and professionally everything happened and the fact that the outcome was is as mild as it is because it was one of those things where an inch in any direction could have been catastrophic.”