Authorities conducted a search and rescue operation Saturday after a 47-year-old Pennsylvania man fell out of a hunting stand in a remote area of the George Washington National Forest in Shenandoah Çounty.
Owen Heine, conservation police officer for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said Emanuel Ruhlman suffered a broken hip, five broken ribs and several spinal fractures after he tumbled roughly 20 feet from his perch.
The incident occurred off Little Sluice Mountain Trail near the Wolf Gap Recreational Area.
The stand had been up in the tree for seven years, and Ruhlman was not wearing a safety harness before the fall. Heine attributed the accident to structural decay of the stand over time.
“The stand and straps had been there for seven years,” he said. “Because of that, the straps became brittle after that long period of being exposed to the elements. They finally just gave way when he was 20 feet up there in the stand.”
Ruhlman had his cellphone with him and called 911 but he didn’t know his exact location. Authorities managed to ping his GPS coordinates from a nearby cell tower. Heine said he was accompanied by two dogs, both of whom were equipped with GPS trackers.
“Everything lined up and that’s how we were able to find him, is via GPS coordinates,” Heine said. “It was pretty rough terrain where he was. Without coordinates, it would have taken much longer to find him and get him out.”
Capt. Wes Dellinger of the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, whose department assisted in the rescue effort, said rescuers walked roughly one mile off a walking trail through rocky, wooded terrain to reach Ruhlman. From there, they carried him out with the assistance of an ATV before airlifting him to the Winchester Medical Center.
Dellinger said the operation took roughly four hours total.
As a general note to hunters, Heine said to avoid these kinds of injuries, hunters should inspect the straps and structure of hunting stands every year, and always wear a safety harness while in them, even though it is not required by law.
Ruhlman was still in the hospital as of Monday afternoon.
Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or firstname.lastname@example.org