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Search and Rescue

Ohio Man Killed In Class IV Rapids On Gros Ventre River In Teton County

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An Ohio man was killed on Tuesday in a rafting accident on the on the Gros Ventre River in Teton County, according to Teton County Search and Rescue (TCSAR) officials.

TCSAR officials said they were contacted on Tuesday evening to respond to a report of a “cataraft” launched onto a stretch of whitewater below Lower Slide Lake flipping near a rapid known as “Hermit.”

While one person was able to climb back onto the craft, the other person continued downstream. Others in an accompanying watercraft tried to chase the man down the river, but were unable to retrieve him.

Volunteers with TCSAR responded with swiftwater recovery teams on foot and in rafts and deployed an aerial drone.

Grand Teton National Park also dispatched a team of Jenny Lake Rangers and the interagency helicopter due to the accident site’s close proximity to the park boundary.

Teton County Sheriff’s deputies also responded, as did many recreational river users already on the scene.

According to TCSAR officials, the man was reportedly last seen near a large boulder, around a quarter of a mile upriver from the park boundary, at a sharp bend known as Jumping Rock.

Shortly after, a spotter at Jumping Rock saw the man floating, unresponsive, downriver.

The helicopter was able to follow the man as he floated downriver and eventually became stuck on a log jam about 1 mile downriver. Search and rescue volunteers managed to reach the man and bring him to shore.

TCSAR officials pointed out that the 3-mile stretch of whitewater in question is categorized as Class IV and is the most demanding, accessible whitewater stretch in Teton County.

On Tuesday, the river was flowing above its usual level by an average of about 2.5 feet. The area has been experiencing high water for nearly two weeks.

The numerous rapids were formed by the Gros Ventre Slide from 1925 and an ensuing flood, which created sharp, angular rocks that make any swimming especially hazardous.

SAR officials did not immediately respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Thursday.

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Plane Crash Rediscovered Over The Weekend in Grand Tetons Was From 1988

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

The wreckage of an airplane spotted in the Gros Ventre drainage this past weekend was from a crash more than 30 years ago, authorities said.

Hunters reported finding the collapsed but largely intact airplane late Friday night, according to Tim Ciorcarlan, search and rescue aviation advisor for Teton County Search and Rescue (TCSAR), who led the recovery mission Saturday morning. 

The hunters had taken photographs of the fuselage and wings that were buried under a mound of snow, Ciorcarlan said, and the search crew had little to go on after research yielded no evidence of any missing airplanes or recent plane crashes in the area.

The TCSAR crew of staff and volunteers ascended the steep 3,000-foot, heavily timbered Crystal Butte, about three miles outside Jackson, where they found the wreckage.

“It looked like a flattened beer can,” Ciorcarlan said. “The whole plane was there, but it was really smushed. Like it pancaked from the sky, nose down. You can see the wings and fuselage, but it was smashed really badly.”

His crew was able to straighten the wreckage enough to discern the airplane’s tail number.

It turned out the airplane, a Mooney M20F, had crashed in August 1988 during the peak of the fires in Yellowstone, killing both the pilot and passenger. 

According to the report by the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB), the plane had been climbing at 11,000 feet through thick smoke from area forest fires shortly after leaving Jackson Hole when it hit two trees and plunged to the ground. Pilot Robert Yoreck, 50, and his passenger both died on impact.

Loss of control, collision with mountainous/hilly terrain were listed as the probable cause of the crash. 

Though the bodies had been removed and the incident well reported, the debris remained on site in well preserved condition, its windscreen remaining crystal clear and its paint showing little evidence of fading in the sun.

The crash seems to have been largely forgotten by members of law enforcement and the local aviation community. Ciorcarlan, who has responded to every airplane crash report in Teton County since 1993, had no knowledge of the crash before climbing the butte Saturday.

It turns out, the hunters Friday were not the first group to report the wreckage.

It turns out it had been reported by hunters about two decades after it occurred.

“This plane should not have been a mystery,” Dave Hodges, a Teton County Sheriff’s Office detective who was on the search, told Cowboy State Daily Wednesday.

“It had crashed in 1988 and was reported at the time,” he said. “Both the pilot and passenger died and were recovered.  All done. But somehow, through the little cracks in the system, it was forgotten about. It was again reported in 2008 by hunters. But once more slipped through the system.” 

Authorities thought the report made Friday might involve a new crash, Hodges said, because the initial information was vague.

“The preliminary input was insufficient to the point no prior historical contacts were revealed,” he said. “It was only when we returned from the crash site and sat down at the computer, now armed with more exact data, that it was revealed in the TCSO historical data base.”

It’s not clear why the plane has been left on the mountain.

That decision to remove debris is typically left up to either the owner and/or insurance company, according to Keith Holloway, media representative for the NTSB, who said his agency does not participate in the removal of aircraft debris.  

This time, however, Ciorcarlan said searchers painted a big yellow “x” on the airplane’s fuselage with a date of the crash to indicate the crash has been investigated. 

He and the volunteers were nonplussed about the steep hike or unnecessary recon work on their part.

“It really is a nothing burger, so to speak,” he said. “We just went for a walk.”

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Elderly Man Rescued In Park County After Falling While Fishing

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Park County Sheriff’s Office rescued an elderly man late last week after injured his back and head in a fall while fishing.

The sheriff’s office received a call for assistance on Thursday afternoon in an area off of U.S. Highway 14 after the 84-year-old fell.

A number of emergency officials were all paged to respond, including the sheriff’s office, Park County Search and Rescue and the Cody Fire Department.

“Even though the fire department was not formally requested to respond to this incident they immediately jumped in to provide service and answer the call of duty, just another example of the exemplary team work that can be counted on in Park County,” Park County Undersheriff Andy Varian said.

About 45 minutes after the initial call was made, the man was assessed by emergency medical staff and was put into a cervical collar and full-body vacuum splint for spinal immobilization.

He was then hauled up the hill via a rope haul system that search and rescue personnel constructed. He was then secured and taken to the waiting ambulance.

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Climbing Accident Was Cause of Death For Cheyenne Doctor, Say Authorities

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Cheyenne anesthesiologist whose body was found in the Wind River Mountains earlier this week apparently died from a fall, officials said Thursday.

Thor Hallingbye, 41, was last seen near Gannett Peak in the mountain range on the afternoon of Aug. 14 and was reported missing later that evening when he failed to return to his base camp in Sublette County.

Hallingbye’s body was found Monday afternoon by a helicopter crew on Gannett Glacier in Fremont County at an elevation of 12,942 feet. He’d died of an apparent fall.

After coordinating efforts with the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office and the Fremont County Coroner, the Tip Top Search and Rescue short haul team planned Hallingbye’s recovery.

“This was a very challenging mission, and a very challenging recovery. Our team did a superior job and I am proud of their accomplishments on this mission,” Tip Top short haul Manager Milford Lockwood said.

“This appears to be a tragic climbing accident, and our deepest condolences go out to the friends and family of Mr. Hallingbye”, said Sublette County Sheriff’s Sgt. Travis Bingham.

A GoFundMe page has been set up for Hallingbye’s family by Erin Flaherty of Whitefish, Montana.

“Jen [Hallingbye] is a strong woman and has both families nearby to help her in Cheyenne, but raising Oskar, Karl, and Katelynne just got a lot harder,” Flaherty wrote. “This fund is started in Thor’s memory and will be used to assist his family. Thank you for your support.”

State Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, lamented the news in a Facebook post earlier this week.

“I don’t know why this hurts so bad,” Brown wrote. “I hardly knew Thor but I was better for having known him. He was the kindest soul. He loved his wife and his kids more than anything. This world was better with him in it. I’m so heartbroken.”

“May God rest your soul, Thor. May God comfort Jenileah, the kids, Beth, and Stig during these troubling and heartbreaking times,” Brown said.

Hallingbye was an anesthesiologist and pain specialist at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center.

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Cheyenne Doctor Thor Hallingbye Found Dead in Wind River Mountains

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

A 41-year-old Cheyenne anesthesiologist who disappeared while hiking in the Wind River Mountains over the weekend was found dead on Monday by a Sublette County search and rescue team.

Tip Top Search and Rescue announced late Monday afternoon that the body of Thor Hallingbye was discovered in Fremont County. Earlier, the rescue unit said Hallingbye was last seen in the vicinity of Gannett Peak on Saturday afternoon.

“Our sincerest condolences go out to the family and friends of Mr. Hallingbye,” the organization wrote on Facebook.

Cowboy State Daily reported that his wife Jenileah said Thor got separated from his hiking group after summiting Gannett Peak around 2 p.m. Saturday, “about 30 minutes from the top.”

“Please say prayers for Thor,” she wrote. “Please pray that he is safe and that he will be found. We have faith that he is okay.”

Cheyenne legislator Landon Brown lamented the news in a Facebook post.

“I don’t know why this hurts so bad,” Brown wrote. “I hardly knew Thor but I was better for having known him. He was the kindest soul. He loved his wife and his kids more than anything. This world was better with him in it. I’m so heartbroken.”

May God rest your soul, Thor. May God comfort Jenileah, the kids, Beth, and Stig during these troubling and heartbreaking times,” Brown said.

Hallingbye was an anesthesiologist and pain specialist at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center.

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Siblings Save Father From Bighorn Mountains After Horse Accident

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two children helped with the rescue of their father from the Bighorn Mountains this week after he was thrown from his horse.

According to South Big Horn County Search and Rescue, the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call from a girl in the Paint Rock Lakes area Tuesday afternoon who reported her father had been thrown from his horse and possibly had a broken jaw and other injuries.

Search and rescue ground teams were dispatched to the area. Once initial coordinates were established, an air medical resource was requested.

The helicopter flew directly to the scene with one search and rescue team member onboard, and they located the man and his son and daughter around 75 minutes after the initial call.

The man was moved to the aircraft by the crew and SAR member and transported to a clinic in Billings, Montana.

The search and rescue team member hiked with the children to a campground, where they met the ground teams, two sheriff’s deputies and the children’s mother.

“We must include the patient’s two children in our post today as part of the team effort,” the team said on social media. “The girl hiked to higher ground, made the 911 call, stayed on the phone and gave critical information that helped us locate her. The boy stayed with his dad until help arrived and both children made sure their horses were controlled during the helicopter approach and landing. They were amazing!”

Everyone was off the mountain by 8 p.m. Tuesday.

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Teton County Search And Rescue Saves Ranger, Dog From Teton Wilderness

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A U.S. Forest Service backcountry ranger who was hit by a falling tree in the Teton Wilderness was rescued, along with her dog, on Tuesday by Teton County Search and Rescue.

According to the search and rescue team, the ranger had been hit by the falling tree days ago and suffered a shoulder injury. The pain was unrelenting, so she called for help at 3:19 a.m. Tuesday, prompting a response from TCSAR and the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the area she was in.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, a team of two TCSAR volunteers, a USFS ranger and a pilot traveled by helicopter to the Hawks Rest Patrol Cabin, which is just miles from the Yellowstone National Park boundary, one of the most remote places in the contiguous U.S.

Upon landing, the team found the ranger and her dog in the cabin.

“They assessed the patient’s injuries (and pet the dog) before loading her and the canine into the helicopter, and flew back to Jackson for additional medical attention,” the team wrote on social media. “The team was out of the field just after 10 a.m. Thank you to the USFS and pilot for the invaluable partnership. Our team was happy to have had a hand in helping this ranger get out of a jam.”

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Powell Couple Rescued After Being Stranded In Big Horn Mountains For 9 Days

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

After spending more than a week stranded in the Big Horn Mountains, a Powell couple was rescued on Monday by officers with the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office assisted by the Wyoming Air National Guard.

The unidentified couple left the Porcupine Falls area on July 18, but ran out of food and water and one of the two began experiencing medical problems. They tried hiking off of the Little Mountain area toward the road, but due to the heat and lack of water, they became dehydrated.

Late Monday afternoon, the couple was able to get cell phone service and contact the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office to request assistance.

They were stranded on a rim rock cliff area in Simmons Canyon and unable to move up or down due to the steep terrain.

Two search and rescue units were deployed to the area and made contact with the victims after a rapid ascent.

Due to their exhaustion, dehydration and medical conditions, the couple could not be moved. One was also badly sunburned.

Rescue personnel brought food, water and medical supplies in order to care for them through the night.

The Wyoming Air National Guard from Cheyenne arrived Tuesday morning to remove the couple from the canyon and take them to an ambulance on a nearby highway. At this time, it is expected the two will make a full recovery.

“With the hot and dry temperatures we want to remind everybody to be extremely cautious during this time and make sure they have plenty of water, sun screen, and clothing to protect them from the extreme heat elements,” the sheriff’s office said.

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Teton County Search and Rescue Saves Two Hikers Friday Night

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Teton County Search and Rescue officers had a busy start to their weekend, spending Friday night looking for two different groups of hikers reported as returning home late.

Both search efforts ended with the hikers found safe.

On Friday night, an Idaho Falls man called to report his sister and her two daughters were late returning from Darby Canyon. They had planned to hike up to the Wind Cave, enter partway and then come back out.

The woman and her daughters were five hours late returning home when the man called.

A Teton County Search and Rescue member living in Teton County responded to the trailhead and found the trio at their vehicle. Their hike took longer than anticipated and all were safe and OK.

Another call was made at around 11 p.m. Friday, when a woman reported her sister and brother-in-law were overdue in returning from a hike at Table Mountain and could be lost.

Search and Rescue sent two teams out, one up the Face Trail and another up the North Teton Trail. The volunteers arrived at the trailhead around 1 a.m. and set out on the search.

Around an hour later, the team on North Teton Trail found the missing hikers, who were unhurt, but relieved to see help arrive.

The volunteers escorted the hikers back to the trailhead.

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Park County Search And Rescue Saves Mother and Child After High Winds Flipped Kayak

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Park County’s Search and Rescue Team is being credited with two rescues over the weekend that saw members save four people from harm — including a woman and her young child stranded on Buffalo Bill Reservoir.

According to officials, on Friday afternoon, the county’s communications center received a call for help regarding a 28-year-old woman and her 5-year-old child who were blown out onto the Buffalo Bill Reservoir by sudden high winds after kayaking near the shore.

The mother was on a kayak, towing her child on an inner tube. When the wind picked up, the kayak was blown away from shore and further into the reservoir.

Numerous emergency officials were dispatched to the scene. While they were en route, the kayak flipped and both the mother and child ended up in the water.

“The speed and teamwork of getting the boat on the water, assembling a team to go out (to include medical personnel), and launching the effort with everyone knowing exactly their role was both impressive and highly professional,” Park County Undersheriff Andy Varian said.

About one-half hour after arriving on scene, emergency personnel found the child in a personal flotation device, conscious and alert. She was lifted into a boat and wrapped in blankets, and once she made it to shore, she taken to a waiting ambulance.

Not long after, the mother was found after managing to stay above water. She was also awake and alert.

Both the mother and child were taken to Cody Regional Health.

In the second rescue, a little earlier Friday afternoon, the communications center received a report of a 67-year-old male and a 72-year-old female who were unable to get back to their vehicle and needed assistance while at Lily Lake in the Beartooth Mountains.

The woman had been kayaking in the lake and overturned her kayak. Although she was able to return to shore, she and her husband were exhausted from the event and unable to hike back to their vehicle.

Search and rescue and a Cody Regional Health ambulance were dispatched to respond. The couple was located about two hours after the initial call and were back to their vehicle not long after, safe and unharmed.

“This is an example of a PFD saving a life. With the ever-changing conditions in this area there is never a routine day. Safety precautions should always be in place,” PCSAR Coordinator Bill Brown said.

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Woman Rescued By Helicopter After Horse “Ejected” Her Down Park County Canyon

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A woman was rescued and airlifted to a hospital in Park County when a horse bucked her off into a steep and rocky canyon.

The woman has been horseback riding with her family on June 23 when she was “ejected” from her horse in a steep and rocky canyon. She appeared to have a closed head injury and a possibly broken pelvis.

The Big Horn County and Park County search and rescue teams, along with Cody Regional Health, assisted with the retrieval of the woman.

Once team reached her, she was treated at the scene Cody Regional Health employees, then she was placed on a wheeled bed and transported out of the canyon.

Due to an area of the trail that was exceedingly rocky and steep the Search and Rescue Teams used a rope belay system to ensure a safe decent.

A rope belay system acts as a brake on the rope by using friction. The tension on the rope helps protect the climbers, and if someone falls, they won’t fall very far.

Once the woman was successfully removed from the canyon, she was transported via helicopter to Billings. No further information on her condition is known at this time.

“The ability for so many agencies to come together and work as one team provides for a much safer environment for everyone,” search and rescue coordinator Bill Brown said.

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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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