Military Flight Instructor Recalls Heroic Rescue on Yosemite’s Half Dome

In a gripping display of courage and quick thinking, Captain Joshua Haveman, a flight instructor with the 60th Air Evacuation Squadron, recently showcased remarkable bravery during a daring rescue mission on the challenging slopes of Yosemite’s Half Dome.

This heart-pounding rescue unfolded on September 2, 2023, as Haveman was nearing the summit of the iconic Half Dome, which towers at an imposing 8,842 feet. The incident began when a fellow climber plummeted an alarming 60 to 80 feet, landing precariously on a ledge suspended over 8,000 feet above the valley floor.

“I knew people were going to be in trouble as soon as I topped the hill because it was cold and windy, and people were getting desperate trying to come down holding a slick metal cable on slick granite. I put down my bookbag, pulled out my medical kit and headed in that direction,” said Haveman. “About that time, I heard someone scream out, so I looked up and saw this person sliding about 80 feet down and land on the only spot that would have saved him – a 6-foot by 1 1/2-foot ledge that separates him from another 500-foot to 1,000-foot fall.”

A photo of Half Dome at Yosemite National Park, Sept. 2, 2023. U.S. Air Force Capt. Joshua Haveman, 60th Air Evacuation Squadron flight instructor, was involved in the rescue of a climber on Half Dome after inclement weather caused unfavorable climbing conditions. (courtesy photo)

Haveman, with a strong sense of duty and a wealth of experience, sprang into action immediately. Despite adverse weather conditions, including biting winds and hail, he ventured beyond the permanent cable barriers to reach the fallen climber. His extensive climbing experience and medical training proved invaluable in this life-or-death situation.

“You could see that his legs were not naturally oriented at all, so I started collecting sticks from sub-dome and started climbing,” Haveman recalled. “Other climbers were concerned for my safety, but the guy was just up there screaming in pain, so I left the cable area and climbed on the ledge.”

A climber awaits evacuation after receiving Tactical Combat Casualty Care at Yosemite National Park, California, Sept. 2, 2023. U.S. Air Force Capt. Joshua Haveman, 60th Air Evacuation Squadron flight instructor, was involved in the rescue of a climber on Half Dome after inclement weather caused unfavorable climbing conditions. (courtesy photo)

Haveman fashioned makeshift splints from gathered sticks to secure the injured climber’s tibia/fibula fracture, expertly wrapping the injured ankle with an ace bandage. To shield the climber from the harsh elements and the apparent shock, Haveman covered him with his own jacket.

Haveman played a crucial role in coordinating a call to the park’s ranger station, alerting authorities to the dire situation. His rapid thinking and effective communication ensured that additional help was on the way.

Soon after the call, a Search and Rescue Park Ranger arrived at the scene, and Haveman seamlessly shifted into a supporting role. Together, they facilitated the patient’s descent using a cable ladder, provided further essential medical treatment, and tended to shock.

The climber was ultimately evacuated by helicopter, receiving the critical medical attention they urgently needed.

“I wasn’t sure a helicopter would be able to land with the winds being as strong as they were, so we were preparing to carry him 10 or 12 hours down with a six-man litter,” Haveman said with pause. “Apparently, it was this pilot’s first day on the job, and he was amazing! It took him about 15 minutes, but he was able to sit the chopper down and we were able to get the patient loaded and breathe a sigh of relief.”

This remarkable rescue on Half Dome serves as a powerful testament to the extraordinary bravery, dedication, and sacrifice displayed by individuals in the armed forces, not only in combat but also as everyday heroes who rise to the occasion when their skills and expertise are needed most.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California

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