H-MORRO BAY

Sep 24, 2013 7:12 PM by Keli Moore, KSBY News

Morro Rock draws a crowd

Rescue crews were busy at Morro Rock Tuesday morning, on the ground and in the sky above it.

"I was like, 'is somebody hurt, is somebody stranded?'" said Andy Wagner, a surfer from West Virginia.

"I came down to see them surfing and let the dogs play and I saw the helicopters and have been here ever since," said Victoria Hamer, who is visiting the Central Coast.

What looked like an emergency was actually a rescue drill.

People have not been able to legally hike Morro Rock since the late 1960s, but that hasn't stopped some people.

"We've had people hike the rock and get lost and also several people fall on all different sides of the rock," said Capt. Todd Gailey, Morro Bay Fire Department.

Capt. Gailey said not only is it a public safety hazard, but it is a sanctuary for birds and a sacred site to the Salinian and Chumash Indians. Even firefighters had to get the okay to practice Tuesday's drills.

"They performed a blessing on us yesterday as we did some orientation hikes and gave us an orientation on the trail and the cultural aspects of Morro Rock," said Capt. Gailey.

Emergency responders created this what-if scenario: a hiker is trapped on the north side of the nearly 600 foot rock, a rescuer rappels out of a helicopter, and the hiker is lifted to safety. It's a dangerous task, even during practice.

"I think it's wonderful what they do, how they put themselves at risk, because I asked and they said the rocks were unstable," said Hamer.

Whether it was taking pictures on their phones or using binoculars to get a better view, those who were watching the drill had their eyes on the sky.

"Rappelling in and out of the helicopter is pretty cool to watch," said Wagner, who later headed out for a surf.

Emergency agencies throughout San Luis Obispo County conduct rescue drills every month, but they rarely get to train on Morro Rock.

In the last 10 years, the Morro Bay Fire Department has rescued at least five people on the Rock. Gailey said in 2011 a young man fell 285 feet to the ground.

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