Park County Search and Rescue Saves Eight Stranded Snowmobilers
Written by Andrew-Rossi on February 26, 2021
It was déjà vu for Park County Search and Rescue, as helicopters and snowmobile volunteers were needed in a rescue operation that should never have happened.
The call came into the Park County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch Center at 11 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24. Eight snowmobilers, a group of people from Minnesota and Wisconsin, left Cooke City, Montana for an excursion into the Beartooth Mountains and had yet to return.
Park County Search and Rescue immediately mobilized, enlisting the assistance of the Cody Country Snowmobile Association. There was only one problem: they didn’t know where to go.
An acquaintance of the missing snowmobilers said they had received a text from the group saying there were in the Maryott Lake area of the Beartooth Wilderness – an area where they never should have been. The text was not recently so they may have moved on.
With the lack of information and darkness already set in, it was decided that the rescue shouldn’t begin until the next day.
The search for the eight snowmobilers began at 6 a.m. Thursday morning. PCSAR’s AIR-1 fixed-wing airplane took off trying to spot the riders or their trail near the Island Lake warming hut, which served as the starting point for the search.
At 8:00 a.m., an abandoned snowmobile was found on the frozen surface of Granite Lake. Soon after, a single snowmobiler was found circling the same area and flagging the PCSAR plane.
Soon the entire group was found – stranded in a treacherous area of deep snow, fallen trees, and sheer drops.
Apparently, the group entered the area and couldn’t find their way out. Out of daylight and out of fuel for their vehicles, they built a fire and hunkered down for the night.
The snowmobilers ended up in such hazardous terrain that the experienced riders of PCSAR and the Cody Country Snowmobile Association couldn’t evacuate them on foot.
Two helicopters were enlisted for an aerial evacuation – a helicopter from Guardian Flight in Cody, as well as a helicopter from Teton County, Search and Rescue in Jackson. The Guardian Flight chopper got their first, at 11:45 a.m.
By 1:30 p.m., the Guardian Flight chopper has gone and the Teton Search and Rescue chopper was transporting the trapped snowmobilers – three at a time – to the Island Lake warming hut, where they would be transported to friends who could take them back to Cookie City.
Medical personal came with the choppers, but their services weren’t needed. None of the eight were injured and were “in good spirits” during the evacuation.
Good feelings might not last for long – while it was a successful undertaking, it wasn’t a necessary one. These snowmobilers could face consequences for this escapade.
“These areas are designated wilderness for a reason,” says Park County Sheriff Scott Steward. “They are filled with downed timber, steep accents, deep draws, and sheer cliff faces. Much of these areas are unexplored and can be extremely dangerous if you are unfamiliar or unprepared for emergencies should they arise.”
Riding snowmobiles or any other mechanized mode of travel into designated wilderness areas is illegal. Any and all of these drivers could face substantial fines for their actions.
This is the second Beartooth Mountains stranded snowmobiler rescue in two weeks for PCSAR. Both required volunteer snowmobilers and two helicopters to successfully complete.
While one incident was a case of bad luck and bad timing on behalf of the victims, this incident resulted from ignorance in a prohibited area. There are lessons to be learned from the mishaps of these eight snowmobilers.