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La Plata Peak. Josh Friesema, Special to The Gazette

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Retired NASA astronaut Jeffrey Ashby was severely injured Monday after falling 500 feet near the summit of Colorado’s La Plata Peak, according to the Chaffee County Sheriff's Office.

Nearby hikers heard Ashby screaming for help and contacted authorities. Search and rescue teams scoured the area for several hours before noticing a light flashing below the 14,360-foot summit. Unable to reach Ashby because of steep, technical terrain, Flight for Life was called in to assist with identifying his exact location.

After Ashby was located on a snowfield, a second helicopter dropped in a search and rescue team member near the summit. That person hiked down the steep terrain to reach and stabilize Ashby at approximately 3 a.m. Tuesday.

A helicopter from the Air National Guard High Altitude Training Center was used to carry Ashby from the mountain at approximately 7:30 a.m. Tuesday. He then was transferred to Summit Medical Center by a Flight For Life copter and treated for possible fractures.

La Plata Peak is the fifth-highest fourteener in Colorado, located in the Sawatch Range near Buena Vista. To reach the summit, hikers have the option of three different routes, ranging from class 2 climbing to class 3 climbing (5 is the most difficult).

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Technical, snowy terrain, high-altitude conditions and the remoteness of Ashby's location made this mountain rescue complex.

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