Deceptively dangerous


Anchorage’s popular Flattop Mountain/Joe Connolly photo

A July Fourth hike to the top of Flattop Mountain to watch Anchorage fireworks ended with a young man from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in a helicopter on his way to a local hospital early this morning.


Alaska State Troopers report 21-year-old Sterling Horton slipped, fell and suffered serious injuries descending from the 3,510-foot top of the iconic landmark that has become the number-one trouble spot in the Chugach Mountain Front Range.

More rescues take place in and around Flattop than on the most of the other Chugach peaks combined.

Troopers got a near-mountaintop call from Horton’s friend just before 1 a.m. asking for help. Residents of the Glen Alps neighborhood just below the peak said helicopters started whoop-whoop-whooping around the summit not long after.

Life Med was the first to land up top sometime before 2 a.m. The headlamps of paramedics lit the night as they searched for the victim, according to area residents. When they found Horton, however, they couldn’t get him to the helicopter.

“Life Med requested support with a hoist,” troopers reported,  and the Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) apparently sent the a helicopter and paramedics from the Alaska Air National Guard’s 210th Rescue Squadron to the scene.

Or at least neighbors reported seeing an ANG Pavehawk over the summit shortly after 2 a.m. Troopers reported only that RCC responded. The RCC is a small unit of the 176th Wing of the Alaska Air National Guard that stands watch 24 hours per day “in a small, high-tech facility on Elmendorf Air Force Base” to monitor for distress calls and locator beacons.

It’s primary jobs is to track military and civilian pilots and coordinate rescues if anyone of them get in trouble,  but it is also available to provide military assistance to state or federal search and rescue operations.

And it can dispatch the 210th to provide hoist capabilities when someone falls of a mountain in Alaska and ends up in a place difficult to reach. In this case, Horton had fallen into a gully on the steep northwest face of Flattop, and it would have been hard to get him back to the summit with anything other than a helicopter lift.

The 21oth has hoist capabilities both LifeMed and Alaska State Troopers lack, and it can fly night operations the troopers do not do for safety reasons. Troopers reported that Horton was hoisted about 70 feet into a helicopter. He was flown to the Providence Hospital with head and knee injuries and went into surgery.

He could not be reached there. Providence said he had not yet been assigned a room.

Flattop is arguably the most dangerous mountain in Alaska, mainly because it sits on the edge of the state’s largest city, has a well-traveled trail to the top, and is taken for granted by so many. Chugach State Park rangers say people forget that as with much of the mountainous terrain Alaska, Flattop has terrain that one misstep can turn from benign to dangerous or even deadly in a heartbeat.

Flattop has been the site of several deaths both in summer and winter in recent years,  and rescues have become almost common place. But they still take hours. Hikers are advised to wear mountain footwear, and pack along enough extra clothes for an emergency bivouac that might last for hours before help arrives if anything happens.





6 replies »

  1. Sandi green, my heart and prayers are with you and your son. My husband is also eod and I know that all his brothers and sisters in arms are praying for him! Will be keeping yall in our prayers.. from a ft hood momma

  2. Horton is my son. He is a USAFEOD TECH. He’s highly trained and this was an accident. We may not be from Alaska, but We are Texas PROUD! Some folks don’t belong in Texasas well. My son is there on a mission serving and and doing his job. Thank you sir’s.

  3. What does bring from Alaska have to do with this. This is a friend of mine son, and let me just say. He’s a Navy Seal. it makes me so sad how someone who defends our country to let us be Free. And all yall can do us be a smart ass.. makes me sick. I will pray for you.

    • i don’t think James Mason was being a smart ass. the margins in Alaska are different. it’s easy to get hurt here. i think that’s the point he was trying to make. we had some Navy Seals who came in here for winter training one winter, got their butts kicked and had to be rescued. it was a learning experience for them. sometimes the lessons are costly. let’s all hope for a full and complete recovery in this case.

  4. Maybe we should change the name. Instead of Flattop, call it Certain Death Mountain or something. So people will take it seriously.

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