Mountaineer cuts off trapped arm with penknife

A mountaineer whose right arm became trapped under a heavy boulder in a remote stretch of the eastern Utah desert took the drastic step of hacking off his own arm with a pocket knife before abseiling down a sheer rock wall and looking for help.

The extraordinary story of Aron Ralston, a fitness fanatic and highly experienced mountaineer, hit the headlines yesterday as police officials from Green River, Utah, gave accounts of his bravery to American television. "He's pretty darn tough. He wanted to live. He saved himself," sheriff's deputy Mitch Vetere told reporters.

Mr Ralston, who is 27, was climbing alone in the Canyonlands National Park last Saturday when the boulder dislodged and landed on him. For several days he held out the hope that someone would stumble across his path or spot him from the air. By Tuesday, he had run out of water. By Thursday, he realised he would not survive unless he took drastic action.

Using his penknife, he cut off his right arm just below the elbow – an excruciating process that took several hours. He then applied a tourniquet to staunch the bleeding, rappelled 60 feet down a rock wall to the canyon floor and kept walking until he came across two other mountaineers. They managed to flag down a rescue helicopter, which took him to hospital.

By yesterday, he had been moved from Utah to a hospital in Colorado, where his condition was described as serious.