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Rescuers save man trapped on Crater Lake ridge

CRATER LAKE — An Arizona man nearly slid into Crater Lake Saturday afternoon while attempting to retrieve his friend's cell phone, prompting a lengthy rescue by Jackson County Fire District 3 crews.

Kevin Harris, 26, of Glendale, Ariz., was walking along the rim when his friend dropped his cell phone into the caldera. Harris decided to scoot down the snow-covered slope to reclaim the phone.

While climbing down the slope he quickly lost his footing and slid. Somehow he was able to stop his descent, but found the footing too slick to climb back to the rim.

Had he continued to slide he would have dropped off the 700-foot cliff and into the frigid water below.

"That water is close to freezing this time of year," said Jackson County Fire District 3 firefighter Pat Haynes. "He might have lasted a half-hour, probably less if he had gone in."

Crater Lake park rangers managed to throw a rope down to Harris to rescue him until District 3's special operations rescue team arrived.

The rescue crew arrived at the Rim Village at 2:30 p.m. and went quickly to work. Though there was no snow or wind at the lake, they knew weather conditions at that elevation can rapidly deteriorate as the sun goes down.

Haynes rapelled down the slope from a rope attached to nearby trees. He approached Harris from the side for fear of causing a small avalanche of fresh snow directly above the stranded man that could have pushed the him into the water.

Haynes worked his way down and over to Harris and was able to secure him to the rope and walk him up the slope.

"He was fairly calm during the whole thing, but he was getting pretty cold down there," Haynes said.

Harris was suffering from minor hypothermia and a few scrapes on his hands from the fall. He was examined at the scene and determined to be in good health.

Harris is a member of the U.S. Air Force and is currently serving at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, said District 3 officials.

District 3's technical rescue team trains intensively throughout the year for operations in the harshest conditions. Team members have performed difficult missions in rivers, cliffs in and around Jackson County, but have never pulled off a Crater Lake rescue.

"We put in a lot of hours in case we get calls like this," Haynes said. "This one was good practice for us, and we're glad everything turned out all right."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.