Snowmobilers Rescued After Two Day, 50-Member Search Effort In Park County Mountains

After 48 hours in the wilderness, search and rescue crews saved two men after both of their snowmobiles became disabled in the mountains of Park County.

Annaliese Wiederspahn

February 23, 20215 min read

Snowmobile rescue scaled
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Don’t be surprised if the rescue of two Montana men in the Beartooth Mountains of Wyoming over the weekend becomes a movie, or at least a book.

According to the Park County Sheriff’s Office, two snowmobilers survived more than 48 hours in the wilderness, spending one night around a fire and another covered in spruce branches after both of their snowmobiles became disabled.

Dozens of searchers riding snowmobiles, piloting Blackhawk helicopters, and flying one fixed-wing airplane to eventually found the duo.

But it was close. Both Trevor Deal and Maison Ostwald came close to giving up, they said, telling the Park County Sheriff’s Office that they had between four and five hours left before they were “going to curl up and die.”

When the first snowmobile became disabled on Thursday, one of the snowmobilers called a friend to let them know they were trying to make it back to the highway on the working snow machine.

That was the last phone call they were able to make.

They didn’t make it to the highway. At nightfall, they hunkered down and started a fire by draining gasoline from the non-working snowmobile and igniting it with a spark plug wire.

At 8 p.m. Thursday, the Park County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch received a report of two overdue snowmobilers.

That started everything rolling.

Park County Search and Rescue was activated and deployed to the area on snowmobiles.  They were assisted by volunteer members of the Cody Country Snowmobile Association and volunteers from Snow Search.  

They searched through the night, eventually suspending operations at 4 a.m. 

Bad luck followed the snowmobilers on Friday as they drove their only working machine into a buried boulder, rendering it useless.

If they were to make it to safety, they’d have to do it by foot. And they set off.

At 4 p.m. on Friday, the results from a forensic trace of the snowmobilers’ last phone call was received and the search crews shifted to an area south- southwest of Fantan Lake.

It was there searchers found an abandoned snowmobile and tracks indicating that the men went south over a steep incline after abandoning the sled.

Because of the weather, the time of day and the steep terrain, the search was suspended.

Deal and Ostwald were able to make some headway on Friday but not enough to get them to the highway and they had to hunker down again. But this time, they couldn’t start a fire.

So they covered themselves in spruce branches and waited for the morning.

The morning did not come easy. Upon waking up, the two said they had no feeling in their lower extremities and it took two hours to traverse 100 yards.

Dealt said at that point, the two thought they might not make it out alive.

The search was restarted at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning. Park County Search and Rescue deployed all of their snow search equipment. All of the volunteers from the previous day showed up again to help.

Two of the rescue team boarded a Huey helicopter from Malstrom Air Force Base and spotted snowmobile tracks and later human tracks which indicated where the snowmobilers abandoned their second machine.

In the meantime, several members of the Cody Country Snowmobilers Association were searching in the same area.

When the helicopter headed back to Cody for fuel, snowmobilers began to hear Deal and Ostwald shouting for help hundreds of yards away up the mountain.

The search team raced up the steep ascent and eventually reached the men.

“Both men appeared to be in relatively good shape.  They were exhausted, dehydrated, and hypothermic,” the Park County Sheriff’s Office said.

After taking both men to the Cody Hospital by ambulance, it appeared one of the men was in better shape than the other.

Deal refused treatment. But it was more serious for Ostwald.

He was flown to the Idaho Falls Burn Center for treatment of severe frostbite.

Deal told the Park County Sheriff’s Office that “if not rescued in the next four to five hours, they both had resigned themselves that they were going to curl up and die.”

“As they began getting these thoughts, that’s when they heard the Huey in its search pattern. When it left, that’s when they heard the snowmobiles below them and began shouting for help,” the department said.

Sheriff Scott Steward credited the successful search and rescue effort to the “incredible selflessness of the rescuers and the interagency cooperation.”

“Most often search and rescue missions, similar to this one, do not have a positive outcome,” Steward said. “So it was incredibly satisfying for our members to have such an emotionally rewarding end result.”

“And this was in no small part due to the volunteers who stepped up in a time of need. All of us should be grateful for their unselfish and giving attitude.”

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Annaliese Wiederspahn

State Political Reporter