(Gallatin County, Mont.) It started at 8:00 P.M. Saturday night. A Bozeman father and son camping at Deer Lake, north of Big Sky, sent an emergency message using a satellite beacon. The father had an altered level of consciousness, was nauseous and unable to keep fluids down. Two volunteers, followed by five additional members from the Big Sky division of Sheriff’s Search and Rescue hiked the seven or so miles into the lake. They rendered some aid and the camper was starting to feel better but not well enough to transport. The rescuers settled down for the night to see if his condition improved over night.
An hour later at about 9:00 P.M. Search and Rescue volunteers from the valley division were dispatched to Bridger Ridge near Mount Baldy. A father, mother and daughter from Spokane had attempted to hike from Fairy Lake to the M on the ridge trail. That hike is arduous under good conditions but the party was caught in the storms that rolled through the valley late Saturday. All three were exhausted and having knee trouble but the mother was also hypothermic and sick, unable to keep fluids down. A crew of four rescuers, described by the hikers later as gracious, kind and made of granite, hiked the ridge from the M trail head with gear to hydrate, dry out and warm the hikers. After determining that they were in no condition to walk out in the dark, rescuers moved them to a more sheltered location and rendered aid. Several attempts were made to reach the area by helicopter but were thwarted because of the lack of suitable landing zones and darkness. Again the group settled in for a long night to see what conditions presented themselves in the daylight.
Within 45 minutes, at 9:43 P.M., the third distress call was dispatched. A group of three motorcyclists were riding in the Bear Canyon area. Two of the cycles had broken down after the rain storm had changed the trail conditions significantly. One person in the party had made his way out to the Bear Canyon Trail Head but was certain the other two, not knowing the area, would not be able to extricate themselves. Additionally, they had limited gear. Search and Rescue ATV volunteers and a USFS Ranger were sent to the area to gather them up.
A little over an hour later the fourth call came in, a frantic report of an ATV crash with someone bleeding badly 9 miles up the Jackson Creek Trail east of Bozeman. Search and Rescue resources were diverted from Bear Canyon and the Reach Medical Helicopter diverted from Bridger Ridge to try and locate the crash patient. Bridger Canyon Fire Fighters were the first to locate the patient who had been loaded in a pickup and was being driven down the track. He was transferred to AMR Ambulance and then driven several miles to the closest landing zone where he was flown by Reach medical helicopter. 45 minutes from the time of the 911 call he was being flown to Billings with a serious head injury.
At 5:00 A.M. rescuers at Deer Lake found that their patient had deteriorated. He was having seizures and becoming combative. They requested a medical helicopter evacuation. Air Idaho Rescue in West Yellowstone was dispatched but they were foiled by a line of thunder storms that had materialized. It wasn’t until after 8:30, 12 and 1/2 hours after being notified, that the father made it to the hospital being flown by Reach Medical Helicopter.
At 6:30 A.M. weather conditions were favorable for a Mountain Rescue Helicopter from Rocky Mountain Rotors to reach the hikers and rescuers on Bridger Ridge. They were all successfully flown off the mountain to the Search and Rescue Base at the Fair Grounds. Stiff , sore, wet and cold, but appreciative.
Sheriff Brian Gootkin stated, “Backcountry recreation here is no joke. You can find yourself in a bad way in a big hurry. This is Montana, you need to be prepared for changing conditions with extra clothing, food and water. Only half of the people we worked with last night had a means to communicate an emergency. The other half had to travel a significant distance before they could let us know there was a problem. Time can be the difference between life and death when a good day goes bad.” We are so fortunate to have the highly skilled volunteers with Search and Rescue here. As good as the volunteers are, you may be 12 or more hours from getting to a hospital.
Photo courtesy of the Sheriff’s Office