CPHS alum married to award-winning park ranger
By Kitty Conley firstname.lastname@example.org May 19, 2014 1:34PM
Updated: May 20, 2014 2:56PM
Chris Kennedy Thexton was in Washington on May 8 to watch her husband and his partner, Zion National Park rangers Craig Thexton and Theresa Picard, receive Valor Awards, the Department of the Interior’s highest level of recognition for heroism.
The Crown Point connection is that Chris Kennedy graduated from Crown Point High School in 1994. She is the daughter of Bobbie and Mary Kennedy, who used to live in Crown Point. After going on to an East Coast college she fell in love with a park ranger. Everyone thought Chris would have headed to law school to become a high-powered attorney in Washington. But her mother Mary McClintock Kennedy had given her a deep love of the West and of service. Chris became a national park ranger also. After they were married at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the Thextons were happily assigned to the same national park and later moved around the parks in the West.
Craig Thexton and his partner were recognized for their quick actions and willingness to place themselves in positions of danger in an effort to save a life. The incident that set these rangers apart took place the evening of April 30, 2010, when dispatch at Utah’s Zion National Park got a call asking for help for a canyoneer who had lost control while rappelling, and was hanging upside down from his lines. He was not able to right himself.
The report said a 230-pound, 40-year old man was hanging 80 feet above the ground and had almost entirely slipped out of his climbing harness. According to the park report the only reason that he had not fallen to his death was that his climbing harness was still around his ankles and he had managed to wrap the rappel rope around his body several times. The Pine Creek canyoneering route he was on travels through a deep, narrow canyon and requires five rappels. The final rappel is 90 feet long and free hanging. After canyoneers get down they must walk three-quarters of a mile to reach a road.
Luckily for the victim the 1-mile long Zion/Mount Carmel tunnel parallels the rappel route and one of the tunnel windows is 200 feet above the anchor for the final rappel.
Two other rangers Ray O’Neil and Dan Hovanec responded to the tunnel window with Thexton and Picard. They rigged a lowering system and a belay line and lowered Thexton and Picard out of the tunnel window 200 feet down to the victim.
As the two Rangers got to the victim he told them he was losing his ability to hold onto the rope and was not able to assist the Rangers with his rescue. He was getting too weak. Had he let go before they got to him, he would have fallen 80 feet and died.
Both Rangers told him they were not going to let him fall. While they were hanging in the air 200 feet below their own connection to life, they wrapped webbing around the victim in an attempt to create a new harness. Due to the wetsuit the man had on the webbing repeatedly slipped off, according to the park service report. Finally they were able to wrap enough webbing around him to raise the man 10 feet to the rim of the last rappel. Two rangers waiting at the window were joined by other rangers and used a pulley system to haul Thexton, Picard and the victim to safety.
From the time of the call to getting the 40-year-old man to safety took 56 minutes. In that short amount of time the rangers organized a response, prepared gear, drove to the scene, constructed an anchor and lowering system, lowered Thexton and Picard to the victim, and raised the victim and Thexton and Picard to the top of the rappel. According to the Park Service, the quick actions of the rangers saved a life.
The victim did not suffer any long-term injuries as a result of the incident.
Needless to say Crown Point’s Chis Kenney Thexton is very proud of her husband.