Climber rescued after 1,500-feet fall on Colorado's El Diente

DENVER Thu Jun 12, 2014 2:50pm EDT

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DENVER (Reuters) - A climber who broke his leg after falling more than 1,500 feet on one of Colorado's steepest peaks was safe after what local authorities said was their first helicopter rescue using night-vision equipment.

The San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office said the "unusual" 12-hour rescue operation took place early on Wednesday after John Rohde of Denver suffered a severe leg fracture while climbing alone on El Diente Peak.

"He told rescuers that while attempting to pull up on a large rock, the rock moved and he fell an estimated 1,500 to 1,700 vertical feet," it said in a statement.

A helicopter crew using night-vision gear found Rohde, 60, on the 14,165-foot (4,317-meter) mountain in the Lizard Head Wilderness in the southwestern part of the state, but was unable to land on the rugged terrain, the sheriff's office said.

A five-member rescue team was then dropped in a valley nearby and had to climb 90 minutes through the darkness to reach Rohde, described as an experienced climber. Another helicopter was called in at daybreak to lift them to safety, according to the statement.

Rohde is recovering at the Montrose Memorial Hospital, in Montrose, Colorado.

San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters said it had been a dangerous operation. "El Diente is a particularly difficult peak to negotiate search and rescue missions," he said. "Doing this mission overnight in darkness presented additional challenges."

(Reporting by Daniel Wallis; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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