KIM SMITH DEDAM
LAKE PLACID — A winter rescue Tuesday morning brought a Saratoga Springs man safely down from the frozen heights of Mount Marcy.
Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers facilitated the airlift after the hiker spent a frigid Monday night on the tallest peak in New York state.
DEC spokesman David Winchell said Stephen Mastaitis, 58, became separated from his hiking party Monday afternoon on the summit of Mount Marcy.
"With gusting winds on the top and blowing snow, he ended up heading down the back side of the mountain," Winchell told the Press-Republican.
"Members of the hiking group reported him missing to a volunteer assistant forest ranger who was on patrol at approximately 1:50 p.m. Monday," Winchell relayed in a news release.
TALKED BY PHONE
"DEC Dispatch in Ray Brook was able to contact Mr. Mastaitis via cell phone," Winchell said. "He reported he was approximately 500 feet below the summit on the top of steep cliffs.
"Based on his cell-phone location and the description he provided, it was determined he was at the head of Panther Gorge on the southeast side of Mt. Marcy."
Gusting winds that afternoon prevented helicopters from reaching the mountain summit.
"But we were able to insert forest rangers at Lake Colden Landing Zone," Winchell said.
RANGERS HIKED UP
"Four forest rangers hiked to the summit and searched for Mr. Mastaitis, but search efforts were called off at midnight due to severe weather. They hiked down to Marcy Dam Outpost to spend the night."
The temperature dropped to single digits overnight, Winchell said, with winds gusting between 30 and 35 miles per hour, delivering a wind-chill factor near 20 below.
HELICOPTERS JOIN IN
The ground and air search resumed at 3 a.m. Tuesday, with calmer winds allowing helicopters to assist.
"Forest rangers met at the Adirondack Loj to receive search assignments. At 4 a.m., a group of five forest rangers began the hike up to Mt. Marcy. Two New York State Police Aviation Unit helicopters, with forest rangers on board, joined the search," Winchell said.
In all, 20 forest rangers were assigned to aid in the rescue, given the extreme cold and challenging winter terrain.
FREEZING WHEN FOUND
Mastaitis was located at 8:31 a.m. by the five forest rangers on foot.
"He was conscious and coherent but complained of being cold," Winchell said.
"He was situated down in a bowl, in a sheltered area about 500 feet below the summit. He was dressed properly for a winter hike. That certainly helped (him survive)."
A State Police helicopter was deployed to airlift the hiker out.
"The helicopter landed at the Lake Colden Outpost to remove one of its side doors and prepare for hoist operations," Winchell said.
"Mr. Mastaitus was hoisted off Mt. Marcy at 9:38 a.m. and flown directly to Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake for further medical evaluation."
AMC spokesman Joe Riccio said Mastaitus was admitted for observation and is in good condition at the hospital.
Sen. Betty Little, who was monitoring the situation after a call from a friend of the family, said she was impressed by "this great lifesaving effort."
Email Kim Smith Dedam at: firstname.lastname@example.org