The helicopter crew that rescued a skier who fell through the ice on a lake in the Cuyamaca Mountains east of San Diego said the mission was their first ever ice water rescue, and they only had minutes to strategize.
The San Diego County Sheriff's Department says the incident happened at midday Sunday at Big Laguna Lake.
A sheriff's helicopter arrived on the scene in minutes and spotted the skier struggling to keep his head above water in the middle of the lake.
"We knew there was no time to spare,” Deputy Pilot Bill Liniewicz Jr. said. While manning the controls, Deputy Michael Davis, a Tactical Flight Officer, was his eyes and ears.
“He was solely relying on the information and communication that I was giving him,” Davis said.
The helicopter landed to rig a flotation rescue device and then flew over to the man and lowered it to him.
The man was able to grab the device, and the hovering helicopter was able to drag him about 75 yards to shore.
“He knew he didn’t have much more in him. He knew he had to get out of that water because he didn’t have much time," Liniewicz said.
Hikers stripped wet clothing off the man and put dry clothes on him before he was flown to a hospital.
He was flown to Sharp Grossmont Hospital and met with deputies on Monday. He is expected to be OK.
Liniewicz and Davis said teamwork was to credit for the completed mission, and said that Sunday was the best day of their careers.
Both deputies used the mission as a reminder to winter weather thrill seekers to exercise caution.
“There’s a rush to get up there to see [the snow] because it’s in our backyard, but that’s where we really have to be safe," Liniewicz said.