Eleven Army Special Forces soldiers were successfully evacuated by helicopter from the summit of Longs Peak in Colorado today after two of them suffered altitude sickness, extending a one-day mountain exercise into a two-day affair, military officials said.
The 11 Green Berets, who belong to the 10th Special Forces Group based at Fort Carson, Colorado, were conducting a mountain training exercise Thursday at Longs Peak that was only supposed to last the day, according to Lt. Col. Sean Ryan, a spokesman for the 10th Special Forces Group,
But two of the soldiers got altitude sickness and the rest of the group decided to stay on the 14,000-foot mountain overnight to tend to their colleagues, Ryan said.
On Thursday night, the elite group of soldiers informed rangers at Rocky Mountain National Park of their whereabouts and their intent to remain overnight on the snow-covered mountain.
"Late last night, Rocky Mountain National Park staff were notified that a group of ten people were requesting assistance on Kiener’s Route on Longs Peak," said Kyle Patterson, a spokesperson for the park. It was unclear why park officials said 10 people while military officials said 11 people.
"A few members reported having some degree of distress and were having difficulty continuing up the route," Patterson said. "The group continues to self-rescue by assisting each other to climb to the summit of Longs Peak."
The soldiers determined it would be easier to proceed to the mountain's summit rather than to climb down to a lower elevation, Ryan said. Altitude sickness can be a factor in mountain training, he said, even for highly-trained and fit special operations forces like the Green Berets.
Forty-three park personnel were involved in helping to resolve the incident, Patterson said.
A helicopter made repeated trips to the snow-covered summit to evacuate all of the soldiers.
Ryan stressed that none of the soldiers was missing as had been indicated in early social media descriptions of the incident.
“No one is lost, missing or injured,” Ryan said.
Mark Pita, the chief ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park, later described the soldiers as being tired, hungry and thirsty after their adventure.
The helicopter evacuation was not characterized as a rescue because the soldiers made it to the top of the mountain under their own power.