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Crews airlift horse out of canyon

Owner says words cannot describe her relief
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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Emergency crews flew a 1,100-pound horse out of the canyon near Cool Thursday after the horse and its owner were trapped overnight. Owner Alicia Hutcheson’s voice quavered as she described the terrifying ordeal she and her 8-year-old paint-thoroughbred-cross horse Natasha endured when they were caught in the American River’s strong current. On Thursday, Hutcheson and Natasha were on firm ground surrounded by the crews that rescued them. Hutcheson said Wednesday afternoon she and a friend decided to go for a ride in the canyon. She was sitting atop Natasha, who was about knee deep in the river to cool her legs, when the ground below gave away. Hutcheson said Natasha was spooked and lunged forward, taking them both into the current as Natasha thrashed in the water until she was trapped in branches. It was at that point Hutcheson said she was certain death was imminent. “She started flopping sideways,” Hutcheson recalled. “Then I saw the sparkle go out of her eyes.” Hutcheson then grabbed Natasha’s saddle horn and pulled. “It took all the fight in me to pull her up,” Hutcheson said. But they were safe. “From there it was relief, but now what?” Hutcheson recalled thinking. The steep, rocky terrain surrounding them impeded any type of easy exit so Hutcheson’s friend rode out for help. Calstar 3 crews flew in. Hutcheson said they advised her to go get some rest while they decided how to help her horse but the loyal owner refused. “No way was I going to leave her,” Hutcheson said. So she and a few Calstar crewmembers stayed on the shore of the El Dorado County side of the North Fork of the American River with Natasha over night. Relief came Thursday afternoon when multiple emergency rescuers arrived to help. El Dorado County Animal Services officials called in experts from the University of California Davis’ Veterinary Emergency Response Team. Fire crews from Cal Fire and El Dorado County Fire helped the Seahawk helicopter from Fallon Naval Air Station make the rescue. “It was pretty unique,” said Capt. Mike Pott with El Dorado County Fire. “We don’t do this every day.” Pott said “teamwork” made the rescue successful. Dr. John Madigan, a UC Davis professor of medicine and epidemiology, who, along with Charlie Anderson, invented the harness system used to pull Natasha and other horses out of tight places, told Hutcheson her horse was a “star patient.” “It couldn’t have gone any better,” Madigan said of the rescue effort. Hutcheson agreed as she gave Madigan a big hug. She said words couldn’t describe the relief she felt. “I started thinking she would be dead,” Hutcheson said. “Now she’s going to go brag to everyone in the barn, ‘I can fly and you can’t.’” Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com. ---------- What is VERT? The University of California, Davis’ Veterinary Emergency Rescue Team is a volunteer operation that runs on donations. Team members, who include faculty, resident veterinarians, veterinary students and staff help communities in need of animal rescue and pet disaster preparedness. On Thursday Dr. John Madigan and other VERT members helped airlift a horse out of the American River Canyon near Cool. Madigan said the UC Davis – Anderson sling, which he co-invented with Charlie Anderson, was first used by about 1991. Since then, the sling, which can lift “any size horse on the planet” has been used in about 12 airlifts a year around the world, Madigan said. ----------