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Search and Rescue

Teton County Search and Rescue Saves Boy From Horse Accident, Woman With Broken Leg

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Teton County Search and Rescue personnel had a busy weekend, with two rescues in two days.

First, on Saturday, the organization was asked to respond to a report of a boy who had been injured in a horse accident on Gros Ventre Road in Bridger-Teton National Forest. The reporting party was able to reach the dispatchers using an emergency locator device.

Search and rescue responded with ground and helicopter teams, with the helicopter crew reaching him first. Team members assessed the boy’s injuries and packed him into the helicopter for transport to further medical treatment.

On Sunday, the team assisted Grand Teton National Park after being notified that a woman had broken her leg at Phelps Lake inside the park.

Park rangers short-hauled her for further medical treatment.

Teton County SAR has had one of its busiest years ever in 2021, responding to three avalanche-related deaths in a span of five days back in the winter.

In February, the team rescued eight stranded snowmobilers after they became lost on Beartooth Pass.  

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Volvo-Driving Couple Get Stuck On Park County Highway After Driving Around “Road Closed” Sign

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

In Wyoming, spring doesn’t necessarily mean the snow is gone.

A couple driving a Volvo trying to get to Cooke City, Montana, found this out the hard way last week when their vehicle became stuck in the snow on the wrong side of a “road closed” sign in Park County.

Park County Search and Rescue was called out just after 8 p.m. on Monday, April 26, to respond to a report of a stranded vehicle stuck in the snow on Highway 212, just barely on the Wyoming side of the Wyoming/Montana line northwest of Cody.

According to Search and Rescue Coordinator Bill Brown, the couple in the car, a 60 year-old-male and 59 year-old-female, had traveled past the road closure sign in their Volvo XC90 attempting to get to Cooke City from Cody.

The couple was lucky — cell phone service is spotty on the road to the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone, but they were able to get word out about their situation. 

Park County Search and Rescue, the Wyoming Highway Patrol, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Law Enforcement all responded to the scene.

Brown reminded travelers that traffic control signs are in place for a reason.

“Traffic control devices, even the temporary ones, are in place for safety purposes and should not be disregarded for any reason,” he commented, “especially a ‘road closed’ sign.” 

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Park County Search and Rescue Saves Dirt Bike Crash Victim

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A Powell man was rescued from rugged terrain in Park County this week after crashing his dirt bike in a remote area over the weekend.

Bradford James Meredith, 65, was spotted by an airplane dispatched to search for him Monday morning and then taken to a Montana hospital for treatment of injuries he suffered in a dirt bike crash Sunday evening.

According to reports from Park County Search and Rescue, Meredith left his home in Powell around noon on Sunday with the intention of riding his dirt bike, either in an area near the Powell Municipal Airport or the Little Sand Coulee.

According to Meredith’s wife, those are the places he normally rides, but she didn’t know exactly where he was going when he left the house.

Around 11 p.m. Sunday, the Park County Communications Center received a report that Meredith was missing. Park County deputies responded to the area where his wife thought he might be and began searching all accessible roads for Meredith’s van.

The search was suspended at 3 a.m. Monday, but resumed later in the morning.

On Monday morning, Park County Search and Rescue was activated, using a fixed wing aircraft to search the area.

About an hour later, volunteers in the plane spotted Meredith’s van parked off of a rugged two-track trail about two miles from the Powell Airport.

Three minutes later, they saw Meredith lying in front of his wrecked dirt bike in a steep drainage area. Deputies got to him and said Meredith was responsive, but was displaying signs of hypothermia and several serious injuries.

Meredith believed he crashed sometime around 5 p.m. Sunday.

He was taken to St. Vincent Hospital in Billings, Montana, on Monday for further treatment, but his condition is unknown at this time.

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Training Exercises Keep Wyoming Search and Rescue Teams Ready For Action

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

“Help! Help!”

Three men floated in the icy water of the Buffalo Bill Reservoir west of Cody.

One of them happened to be Park County Sheriff Scott Steward.

“I’m going under!”

Well, he wasn’t, really. Steward was a citizen volunteer victim for an inter-agency training exercise on Sheep Mountain coordinated by the Park County Search and Rescue team.

The wilderness and ice water rescue practice coordinated and hosted by SAR involved a host of area emergency service agencies. 

Because Park County covers almost 7,000 square miles – an area about the size of the entire state of Vermont – training sessions like these are important to test the skills and strengthen communication between emergency service providers.

That’s according to Lance Mathess, acting coordinator for the SAR.

“The more you train together the more you become familiar with each agency’s needs, their capabilities, and it can only result in a more positive outcome,” Mathess said.

The training involved two scenarios – one was a water rescue, in which three people fell through thin ice on Buffalo Bill Reservoir.

The second scenario involved a report of a victim of a bear mauling. This particular exercise also involved the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which doesn’t normally get called out for search and rescue operations.

But Dan Smith, who is the Cody Regional Wildlife Supervisor for the Game and Fish Department, said such exercises are great training opportunities for members of his crew, who spend a significant amount of time in the backcountry as part of their jobs.  

“As we all work together, we’re just going to be better as a team,” Smith said. “We all have our individual skill sets… it’s just better for the person that we’re trying to help.”

According to the Wyoming Department of Homeland Security, Wyoming search and rescue personnel conduct an average of more than 300 missions annually across the state to provide assistance to those who become lost or stranded. 

And those missions don’t wait for weekends, or even come one at a time. 

Mathess recalled one September day in 2018 when his unit received three callouts in a six-hour period — a bear mauling, report of a lost woman near Crandall and an injured county commissioner in the backcountry.

Mathess said that in large part due to the rugged terrain that comprises much of the region, exercises like this here in Park County are important because of the wide range of incidents that could — and do — occur.

“I mean, we have swift water, we have deep water, we have high-angle rope rescues,” he said. “We have things like this, like bear maulings and patient evacuations in the backcountry; we have ice climbing, we have snowmobiles. We run the entire gamut of rescue operations, and we have capabilities to respond to all of those.”

Mathess said despite being volunteers, some of the team members are extensively trained in emergency medicine and other specialized rescue techniques and many are community instructors of various outdoor skills and safety programs.

For last week’s exercise, along with the Game and Fish Department and Park County Search and Rescue, personnel from Cody Regional Health, Shoshone National Forest, State Park Law Enforcement, Bureau of Land Management and even Big Horn County Search and Rescue were involved. 

Mathess said because of training sessions like these, crews will be ready when emergencies arise. 

“You can count on us at all times, and we’re there when you need us,” he said.

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Couple & Dogs Left Dangling Over 100-Ft. Gorge When Pickup Truck Loses Control On Bridge

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s probably safe to say that a Garden City, Idaho, couple’s vacation didn’t go the way they planned.

A driver of a pickup truck pulling a 30-foot trailer lost control of his vehicle on Monday while driving across the Malad Gorge Bridge on Interstate 84 in southern Idaho.

It just so happens that the Malad Gorge bridge is appropriately named as the gorge beneath it reaches a depth of about 100 feet.

The truck plunged off the bridge but stayed connected to the trailer by the safety chain, which kept the vehicle from dropping onto the gorge.

The two people and the two dogs were left dangling over the gorge for hours. 

All survived the ordeal due to what’s being called a “heroic rescue” by the Gooding County (Utah) Sheriff’s Office and the Magic Valley Paramedics Special Operations Rescue Team (SORT).

Soon after deputies arrived, they connected more chains to the vehicle so it wouldn’t break away from the trailer and plunge into the canyon.

Then the emergency responders showed up and did what they do: out-of-the-ordinary rescues.

“SORT members were able to rappel down to the dangling pickup truck and attached a harness to each victim allowing rescuers to raise each to safety,” a spokesman for the rescue team said. (Yes, that means the dogs too).

“This was a tremendous team effort that took a quick response and really showed the dedication and training of our community of first responders,” Capt. David Neth of the Idaho State Police told East Idaho News. “This is something we train and prepare for, but when it happens and people’s lives literally hang in the balance, it takes everyone working together, and then some.”

Troopers said the couple was wearing seat belts. No word on what kept the dogs in place.

As for the truck, it was also rescued.

The rescue team told Cowboy State Daily that once the occupants were out of the vehicle, the SORT team was able to to place rigging on the truck for a local tow company. They used a heavy rotator to remove it.

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Historic Avalanche Season Takes Its Toll On Responders

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By Brady Oltmans, Pinedale Roundup 

It’s a deafening hush that surrounds the backcountry. Fresh powder having fallen for days on end welcomes the adventurous outdoorsman with enticing promises of fun. It’s a diabolical trap in place, waiting for just the right movement to trigger tragedy.

This winter has brought the deadliest avalanche season in American history. Last season saw 23 avalanche-related deaths. This winter has already brought 25 at the last monthly tabulation in February, with plenty of winter left.

Teton County, at one point, responded to three avalanche-related deaths in a span of five days. And, according to Cody Lockhart at Teton Search and Rescue, the near misses were daily during that stretch.

The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center lists 61 avalanches of varying degrees in Teton County backcountry since Feb. 1.

Two of those caused fatalities to snowmobilers in backcountry conditions. Another was a snowboarder who, unlike everyone else in the group he was skiing with, didn’t escape a slab while going downhill near Togwotee Pass.

The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center lists Wyoming’s regions at moderate risk of avalanche as of March 3.

Lockhart said that could be worse – Colorado and Utah, for example, have experienced sensitive snowfall this winter – but that also means those playing in the country should be conscious of conditions.

“The avalanche that killed a young snowboarder up on Togwotee, that slid to the ground,” Lockhart said. “Every piece of drainage slid and it just took the perfect recipe of jumping on it and sliding on it the perfect way to trigger that.

“That’s the scary part. You never know what’s going on. Conditions lined up just right for that to happen.”

It’s been a similar eerie silence for Sublette County’s TipTop Search and Rescue.

Outside of a rescue by Horse Creek last month, Kenna Tanner has been counting her blessings that they haven’t been called to respond to more accidents. Since the start of February there have been two avalanches in northern Sublette County and five by Wyoming Peak straight west of Marbleton and Big Piney.

To her, it seems the avalanche dangers grow every year with the multiple levels of snowpack, advancement in machinery and the growing number of people looking to isolated western Wyoming to escape encroaching urbanity. “

It takes weather, people and terrain to create a bad scenario,” Tanner said. “Unfortunately, snowpack seems to get worse and worse. You add the increase of participation, it’s a deadly combination.”

For that Horse Creek rescue in particular, the inclement weather meant TipTop responders had to wait for county plows to clear roads. The dangers that caused a possible avalanche remained, with the added hurdles of weather, darkness and a needed path to locate those in need.

Tanner said she’s not sure if this avalanche season is worse but, to her, it seems the danger seems to be higher for longer periods of time. It’s all about the unpredictability. Weeks like this last one could settle snow, or the melt could add moisture and weight to vulnerable regions.

“You can’t blindly go out,” Tanner said. “You’ve got to do your homework ahead of time. Know what your limitations are.”

Tanner and Lockhart, like every other search-and-rescue member in Wyoming, are volunteers. They’ve responded to rescue calls under inclement and, frankly, dangerous conditions. Sometimes the person they pull out of the slide already died. And that person’s time between survival and death could rely on the timeliness and safety with which rescue crews respond.

That carries a high emotional toll for responders. Lockhart remembered having seven calls for service over a week span in midFebruary. He was asked about responding to three fatalities in that stretch.

His daughter interrupted his answer to tell him it was time to come eat. It was burger night. He told her that sounded good and he’d be right there when he got off the phone.

“When you have a busy week like we’ve had, three fatalities in a week, that’s a lot to stack on a volunteer,” Lockhart said. “Get in this helicopter, dig someone out of an avalanche, give them CPR, make sure your kids are happy and do it again the next day.

“All the search-and-rescue members throughout the state sacrifice a lot and it doesn’t go without paying the mental and emotional price.”

Tanner stressed the importance of knowing routes, going with friends, sticking to arranged plans and knowing your own limitations when planning a day of play. She shared a sentiment that’s stuck with her since she first heard it.

“Going out is an option,” she said, “coming home isn’t.”

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Teton Search And Rescue Called Out More in 2021 Than All Of Last Season

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By Tom Ninneman, Cowboy State Daily

Teton County’s Search and Rescue Team has been involved in more active missions since Jan. 1 than it was through all of the 2019-2020 winter season, officials have announced.

Since the beginning of the year, the team has been called out 31 times — responding to events including five fatalities, three involving avalanches.

Of the 31 responses, 24 resulted in active missions, more than during the entire previous winter season.

Specifically, Search and Rescue has performed ten missions over the past nine days. 

Not only have the missions this winter been frequent, they have also been mentally and physically demanding for the volunteers. 

Nine of the calls have resulted in short-haul operations, during which volunteers are inserted on-scene via a long line beneath a helicopter. 

Three people have died in avalanches in northwestern Wyoming since mid-February, two snowboarders and one snowmobiler.

The deaths prompted the Teton County Search and Rescue to stress the importance of being prepared, practiced, and present. 

The team urges patience to give the new snow time to settle, and no matter what your activity is, take the necessary precautions to ensure that you can return home safely at the end of the day. 

Search and Rescue Chief Advisor Cody Lockhart explains that the seriousness of these frequent accidents does take a toll on the rescue team and often puts them at risk when recovering injured parties from the scenes of incidents.

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

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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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Multiple Emergencies In Beartooth Mountains Test Rescue Resources, Survival Instincts

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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

The importance of search and rescue volunteers and law enforcement professionals was on display this month as two emergencies happened simultaneously in the Beartooth Mountains, while being complicated by the weather. It also demonstrated how critical it is for those heading into the backcountry to have the tools and knowledge to survive.

Officer Katrina Haworth was on patrol Jan. 8 in the Gallatin National Forest looking for scofflaws willing to trespass in backcountry wilderness areas. Despite large swaths of legal places for snowmobiling in the region, there are always a few who refuse to follow the rules.

Haworth spends a lot of time on a sled and has more experience in emergency situations than most. The Clark resident has completed many special training courses for law enforcement tactics on a sled and travels frequently where few will go.

She also has experience as a firefighter — understanding what it takes to work in isolated regions of forests and on steep terrain — as well as being a former Marine, deploying to Afghanistan as part of a security team.

“I’ve been through some hard situations throughout my lifetime, whether with the Marine Corps, being a firefighter or with law enforcement,” Haworth said.

She was checking for fresh tracks and evidence of incursions along wilderness boundaries with Park County, Wyoming, Search and Rescue volunteer Robert Lind.

They were traveling from one wilderness boundary to the other on a gorgeous day — the type that makes you appreciate how lucky you are to work in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, she said.

There wasn’t a ton of snow, but enough for people to get out. Haworth patrols more than 1.5 million acres of territory in Carbon County, Montana, and takes her job protecting wilderness areas seriously.

She was riding up a slope, seemingly no different than other areas, when the snow parted.

“The snow just kind of gave way underneath me once I made it to the top of the bench,” Haworth recalled.

She fell off her snowmobile and 30 feet down a steep slope. “I just remember thinking: OK, the sled is coming.”

The officer tried to make herself as small as possible, protecting her vitals in the fetal position when the sled hit. The first point of contact was just above her ankle and “I felt it break.”

She rolled with the snowmobile further down the hill, eventually landing facedown in the snow with the sled on her back. Adrenaline pumping, Lind raced to help.

“He just lifted that 600-pound sled right off of me,” she said.

The shock of her injuries gave Haworth the shakes. Her fibula was broken and her foot was dislocated from the ankle by about 3 centimeters. The ligaments were dislocated, stretched out and causing great pain. In a moment, the beautiful day in the mountains became a rescue operation.

Lind quickly fashioned a splint with cord from their supplies and a shovel handle, and they began discussing how to get off the hill. Through the pain, Haworth remained calm and collected, Lind said.

Making a plan

They were about 10 miles from U.S. Highway 212. And at that moment, they started getting calls about a rescue operation for three people caught in an avalanche near Cooke City, Montana, about 5 miles south of their location.

They knew that meant search and rescue personnel had their hands full. But Lind and Haworth also knew they had to get off the mountain soon. While it was a relatively balmy 26 degrees at the time of the accident, the sun would soon set and temperatures would plummet.

They had everything they needed to start a fire and wait for assistance. But Haworth refused to pull resources away from the avalanche, Lind said.

Three skiers had been involved in the incident outside Cooke City, with one seriously injured. The rescue teams were already hampered in the operation due to the weather.

Air support was needed from Teton County as the closest team in Bozeman was grounded, said Nate Card, patrol captain for the Gallatin National Forest law enforcement team.

“Quite honestly, Katrina [Haworth] would have normally been medevaced,” Card said, “but the helicopter was needed to access the injured people from the avalanche. And literally, here in Bozeman where aircraft come from for most of that area, we were fogged in.”

Together, Haworth and Lind decided to head down the mountain. At first they thought it best to abandon one sled and ride together. But Haworth thought she could endure the pain and drive herself to safety; she wanted to get home.

“I was concentrating on getting home to my family,” Haworth said.

On their way out of the backcountry, they were met by Forest Service snow rangers who scouted the best path for their descent.

A Cooke City EMT reached them further along and provided some medical attention, while Park County, Montana, Search and Rescue personnel met her at U.S. Highway 212 and brought her to a waiting Cody Regional Health ambulance via a tobogan.

At the Cody hospital, Haworth underwent an operation to repair her ligaments, with a metal plate used to fix her broken fibula.

Lind was impressed by Haworth’s strength and resolve in the situation.

“Katrina is as tough as they come,” he said. “She recognized that it was a bad situation and was determined to get herself out. She didn’t want to burden other people.”

For her part, Haworth considers Lind her hero, but didn’t want to single him out for this one situation “because that’s the way he lives his life. Being a hero is what he does every day.”

“He was very methodical, and very thoughtful. He didn’t get stressed out,” she said. “We just worked through the issue together as a team.”

Being prepared

Every year, more people come to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem looking for adventure, Card said. And every year there are more distress calls made to volunteer search and rescue organizations that serve the area.

There’s a limited amount of resources out there and, despite the high quality of the teams working in the area, sometimes they’re not available, Card said. “You have to be prepared to take care of yourself. Know before you go.”

“We are certainly proud of how she [Haworth] did it, how she worked her way through the process and made excellent decisions to get herself to safety,” the patrol captain said.

The chain of events on Jan. 8 highlights the need for training in emergency survival skills, no matter how much backcountry experience you have, Card added.

The skiers caught in the avalanche were well-trained and had the tools to mitigate the situation, including beacons, probes and shovels. They were able to call for help using a Garmin inReach satellite device. There is little, if any, cell service available in the area.

Yet, despite the danger of recreating in the mountains, many fail to get the necessary tools or train for emergencies.

“There’s an awful lot of people out there that have yet to read the books needed before they go into the woods,” Card said.

While the area has a dedicated group of highly trained search and rescue groups, Haworth said anyone heading into the backcountry is responsible for their own survival.

“You can’t always rely on having helicopters or search and rescue teams,” she said. “Of course, everyone’s going to do their best to get to you, but sometimes the only way you’re going to be able to survive is having a survival mentality — knowing how you’re going to be able to get out.”

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