https://www.powelltribune.com/stories/rescuers-spent-night-on-south-fork-with-injured-hunter,27691

10/22/2020

A recent rescue mission in the backcountry of the South Fork highlighted the importance of being prepared — and the commitment of Park County volunteers.

After a hunter shot an elk on Friday, Oct. 9, his guide returned to camp to get horses to pack out the trophy. In the meantime, while trying to reach his harvested elk, the hunter slid down a steep ravine and snapped his lower right leg.

When the guide returned, he found the elk, but couldn’t find his client. He went back to camp, thinking the hunter had hiked in, but he wasn’t there. A group from the camp then mobilized to search for the 38-year-old. They finally found him in the ravine, unable to make his way back to camp.

Park County Search and Rescue was called and six team members were transported by helicopter to the scene. Unfortunately, it was too late to get the victim out, so they set up camp on the steep banks of a small creek at the bottom of the chasm to wait until morning for extraction.

“There was actually water running down the whole ravine, so they barely had anywhere to go to get out of the water,” said Bill Brown, coordinator of the county’s search and rescue team.

While the hunter had very little equipment for a night on the mountain, most search and rescue members came well-equipped.

“You pack whatever you need to spend a miserable night in the woods,” Brown said.

Team member Carl Christensen of Powell said he wished he had updated from a summer to winter pack.

“I only had a blanket,” he said Wednesday. “It was cold enough the water was freezing in the creek. We literally camped in the creek.”

They comforted the patient with air-activated heat blankets and made camp food using lightweight gas-fueled portable stoves and instant meals. The hunter, from Iowa, was on a trip with his father. There were few spots to get out of the water, so the team made the patient comfortable and then took shelter the best they could. It was lucky it was a Friday when it happened, Christensen said. He only got an hour of sleep, but was able to rest the next day rather than going back to work.

In the morning, the team was still unsure the patient could be reached by the rescue helicopter’s typical 150-foot line. Fortunately, Tip Top Search and Rescue, based in Pinedale, brought a 250-foot line. Tip-Top “short hauled” the victim out of the area and to a waiting Cody Regional Health ambulance that was staged at the Majo Ranch, located at the upper end of the South Fork. The victim was then transported to Cody Regional Health.

A “short haul” rescue is a rope affixed to the underside of a helicopter with an attendant, the Park County Sheriff’s Office explained in a news release. The rope and attendant are lowered to extract the victim, either in a litter or, in this case, what is referred to as a “screamer suit,” or a full-body harness, the sheriff’s office said. The victim is then transported to a more suitable landing zone while attached to the rope.

It’s kind of an unwritten rule in search and rescue that if you get flown in, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get flown out, Brown said. But a 20-mile hike out after a rough night was a lot to expect of the volunteers, so “we made sure that [flight] happened” after the team hiked 2 miles to a more suitable landing zone.

“It was a butt-kicker, for sure,” he mused.

Brown said a key to successful rescue is the use of GPS transceiver beacons. The communication devices can help assist in locating those needing rescue. Brown suggests programming them with the Park County Search and Rescue contact information (help@parkcountysheriff.net) prior to traveling into the wilderness.

“If you have a satellite device that you can communicate directly with dispatch, and then they can turn it over to us and we can actually communicate with the injured person, it makes it a hell of a lot easier for us,” Brown said.

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