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Search and Rescue

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

in Search and Rescue/Search and Rescue
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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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