October 03, 2007

SIUC students come to rescue of stranded Scouts

by Christi Mathis


Caption follows story

CARBONDALE, Ill. — A double-dog dare and the promise of $10 made the leap across the six-foot chasm seem pretty small. But, stranded some 75 feet in the air on a large freestanding rock formation, O'Fallon Boy Scout Troop 35 members Harley Miller and Kennedy Landis soon realized that getting back onto terra firma meant a nearly impossible jump not only six feet across but also nearly six feet up.

Thanks to the help of a trio from the Outdoor Adventure Program of Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Recreational Sports and Services, the pair emerged from their harrowing Saturday afternoon experience safe and sound.

It all began with a weekend beginners' backpacking trip Saturday, Sept. 22, for three adults and seven Scouts, ages 11-17, to the Panther's Den, south of Devil's Kitchen Lake in the Shawnee National Forest.

"We wanted to do something fun, a little adventurous," said assistant troop leader Brian N. Slack. "Unfortunately, we ended up with a little more adventure than we anticipated."

Slack, retired from the U.S. Air Force, acquired a fair amount of backpacking experience in the Sierra Nevada and took some of the Scouts on a hike toward the north end of Panther's Den. The others remained at the south end of the area. Some of them did a bit of exploring that ultimately led to Landis' and Miller's predicament.

John D. Boyd, a senior SIUC geology student from Mt. Zion, and Alex Holmes, a junior from Springfield majoring in outdoor recreation, saw the teens. Both are student workers in the Outdoor Adventure Program, which had training going on that day in the forest. Holmes said the Scouts asked them how to get down from their perch. Holmes, who admits he's 'not much of a rock climber myself" said experience and stories from friends in similar predicaments convinced him "there wasn't a way down" for the boys without some help.

"I've spent weeks in that part of the forest and when things go wrong and you have the know-how to help, you don't hesitate to offer your assistance," said Holmes, son of Roger Holmes and Donna Bornhoff.

They alerted Slack to the dilemma happening some three-miles away from the nearest road. As he prepared to go grab his mountain climbing rope, rescue ideas flew through his mind. Should he try to build a makeshift bridge or a homemade ladder? Or perhaps tie the rope off to a nearby tree to bring the boys back to the bluff from across the divide? Fortunately, Boyd had a bit more experience and they quickly assessed the situation and decided to get more help and better gear.

Boyd traveled far enough to get a cell phone signal and summoned Ian Pendergast-White, a graduate assistant and forestry student from Charleston. Pendergast-White, son of Althea Pendergast and Randy White, has considerable wilderness and rescue experience. He said he's functioned as climbing specialist, riflery range instructor, paddling specialist and wilderness field staff in a wilderness program for youth at risk in Wyoming the past three summers. That's meant multi-day mountain range horse packing trips, canoeing, water rafting and more, including rock climbing, rappelling and exploring the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. In fact, in four years of climbing, he's successfully twice climbed to the summit of the Grand Tetons at 13,770 and handled a free solo ascent of the First Flatiron in Boulder, Colo.

Unfortunately, Pendergast-White said it's also meant "I have seen my fair share of 'rescue' situations. Helping others in their time of need is just the right thing to do. They really weren't thinking when they jumped. It was a scary situation for sure. But they handled themselves pretty well."

He set up a 'high-angle rescue." He anchored and jumped across to the Scouts, strapping them in and with some assistance, slowly lowered Miller and Landis to the ground.

"I am always glad to help people out, especially in the wilderness," said Boyd, son of David and Rita Boyd. "I love being in the outdoors and having fun doing extreme sports like rock climbing. However, safety is a primary concern of mine. It is important to keep in mind the safety of both the group and the individual. While you are having fun, whether it is indoors or out, I would like to remind people to use a little common sense. It will help prevent you from getting into situations that require rescue. The old adage, 'Look before you leap,' is especially apt in this case."

"I was very impressed with Ian," said Slack. "He was very patient with them, very reassuring. You can imagine how tough it was for them to step off there and have someone lower them down. He inspired confidence in them and made sure they were safe. Afterward, Harley said it was a 'life changing experience' and that he would never do anything like that again. I owe a debt to all of them for being there and offering to help the two young Scouts get safely down to the ground."

Slack said the response of Pendergast-White, Boyd and Holmes makes him especially proud since he's an SIUC alumnus. Slack, now employed by The Boeing Co. in Hazelwood, Mo., earned his bachelor's degree in industrial technology in 2004 through the SIUC program at Scott Air Force Base.

"The young men's fine example of responding to help in a time of need made my chest swell up with Saluki pride," Slack said.


Rescuer — Ian Pendergast-White of Charleston, a graduate assistant in the Outdoor Adventure Programs at Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Recreational Sports and Services, along with student workers Alex Holmes of Springfield and John Boyd of Mt. Zion, teamed to rescue two O'Fallon Boy Scouts recently. The young teens, Harley Miller, 14, and Kennedy Landis, 13, jumped onto a freestanding rock formation at Panther's Den in the Shawnee National Forest and were unable to jump back to the distant, higher cliff. The men from SIUC lowered the stranded teens safely to the ground.

Photo by Russell Bailey