The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue responded to two separate incidents on the evening of Sunday, October 5, 2014. Approximately 20 Search and Rescue volunteers responded to both calls, which occurred back to back.
The first call was received at approximately 7:35 PM from subjects reporting a motor vehicle accident in the Moser Creek area of Hyalite Canyon. A Jeep Wrangler with three occupants had rolled several times down an embankment, the occupants were reportedly unharmed.
GPS coordinates were obtained from the 911 call, giving an estimated location which was on a rough, steep, and muddy side road. Montana Highway Patrol was advised of the accident, but due to the difficult access and uncertain location, Search and Rescue was requested to assist.
Search and Rescue volunteers responded with trucks and ATVs, and were able to reach the crash scene. The Jeep’s occupants were confirmed uninjured, and they were given a ride back to a more civilized road, where friends were waiting. Recovery of the vehicle was postponed until daylight hours the following day. The investigation will be handled by Montana Highway Patrol and U.S. Forest Service.
The other Search and Rescue event occurred at approximately 9:00 PM, just as Search and Rescue was departing the Hyalite Canyon call, a 911 call was received from a party of three who had become lost while hiking. A man and woman with a young child had departed from the Bear Canyon Trailhead earlier in the day, intending to make a loop hike, but had gotten lost after encountering a trail sign which was knocked down.
The caller reported that they were okay, but they were not prepared for an overnight stay or nighttime temperatures. Although the caller could not give dispatch their location, the 911 call provided GPS coordinates which later proved to be highly accurate.Those coordinates placed the subjects on a gated Forest Service road, a short distance inside Park County.
Gallatin County Dispatch contacted the Park County Sheriff’s Office to advise them of the call, and to offer mutual aid assistance since Gallatin County Search and Rescue was already mobilized, and the caller’s location was not yet confirmed. Park County requested mutual aid, so the returning SAR volunteers from the Hyalite Canyon call were diverted to this call. Access was gained via the Goose Creek Trailhead, which was the closest access to the caller’s coordinates.
Gallatin County Search and Rescue members were able to drive directly to the lost parties, who had followed dispatch’s instructions to stay where they were. The GPS coordinates from the 911 call were within 80 feet of the location where they were picked up. The subjects did not require any medical treatment, and they were given a ride to a relative who was waiting at the trailhead.
Both of these calls demonstrated the advantage of carrying a charged cell phone when on outdoor adventures, both for making the call for help, and for assisting responders in locating the caller.
Sheriff Gootkin strongly advocates carrying cell phones and other communication devices in these situations, but reminds backcountry users not to depend solely upon these safety nets. Their effectiveness is dependent upon many factors, including location, terrain, and battery life, and these factors can be hard to predict, especially in mountainous terrain. Technology should not substitute for being properly prepared for unexpected mishaps. Among other important precautions, outdoors enthusiasts should always be equipped for changing weather and the possibility of staying overnight. Have fun and be safe!