Paramedics rushed a married couple to the hospital just past midnight Monday after they each sustained serious injuries when a tree fell onto their tent near Trampas Lakes.
Luke and Meredith Austin, of Amarillo, Texas, were camping at the Lakes with their four children when a high winds caused the tree to fall onto the tent and across each of their midsection.
Ojo Sarco Volunteer Fire Department Chief Derrick Rodriguez said Monday his station was paged at 8:30 a.m., Sunday and by 9 a.m. they were at the campground area at the trail head leading to the lakes.
“That’s about a five-and-a-half hour hike,” he said. “I stayed at the midway point for communications. Española paramedics and a few others went all the way up.”
Jeff Cone, Meredith Austin’s father, said the couple’s four children were sleeping in a separate tent and were not injured.
“I think it’s a miracle that the tree, that the limbs, shattered before hitting them with full force,” he said during a Monday telephone interview. “They were seriously injured, but with trees as big as they were, they could have been dead.”
He said the family had tents that were made to withstand hurricane force winds, but that the winds were so strong they ripped the material.
Meredith Austin was transferred to a Level 1 trauma center in Albuquerque and her husband was taken to a hospital in Santa Fe, he said.
According to the E-911 dispatch logs, the impact of the tree shattered Meredith Austin’s pelvis and she lost feeling in both of her legs. Luke Austin sustained injuries to his back and tailbone.
“They both have serious injuries with Meredith remaining on a respirator,” Cone said. “They are improving and all the surgeons are optimistic.”
Jordan Weum, a backpacker at the Lake, called in the accident at 8:22 a.m. on Sunday, according to dispatch logs. Rescuers were not able to immediately reach the family due to inclement weather.
High winds made an air-lift impossible.
About 10 hours after the call to report the injuries, the National Guard suspended their efforts to air-lift the couple out of the area.
Rodriguez said Classic Air, of Los Alamos, also tried to access the lakes but were turned back by high wind.
First responders had to hike in eight miles from the trail head to the campsite to complete the rescue.
Alfredo Montoya, the Rio Arriba County emergency medical services chief and deputy fire marshal, said 15 County volunteers and 49 members of New Mexico Search and Rescue hiked out to the couple’s location.
“This was a very big operation,” Montoya said during an Oct. 8 telephone interview. “The folks that went in had to carry them out.”
Rodriguez said it was a 17-hour rescue mission involving crews from Ojo Sarco, New Mexico Search and Rescue, the National Guard, Agua Sana and Rio Arriba County resources.
Montoya said Weum had to hike down the mountain and to an area where he got cellphone service to make the 911 phone call. The couple was put into ambulances and taken to Española Hospital more than 16 hours after the initial call for service.
Wind speeds reached almost 30 miles per hour on Sunday at the Taos weather station located at the Taos Regional Airport, which is at an elevation of 7,090 feet. This is the closest National Weather Service station to Trampas Lakes.
Wind speeds tend to rise at higher elevations.
The Trampas Lakes trail varies in elevation from about 8,960 to 11,400 feet, according to the United States Department of Agriculture website.
Temperatures at Trampas Lake ranged from a low of about 39 degrees to about 56 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, according to data from the National Weather Service.
Publisher Robert Trapp contributed to this story.