A long and difficult overnight search in the northern range of the Bridger Mountains resulted in the rescue of six individuals this morning who were trapped high in the high country by in heavy snow, dropping temperatures and low visibility Saturday afternoon.
More than 25 search and rescue workers, along with Gallatin County Sheriffs Deputies struggled with heavy snow, avalanche conditions and spotty communications for more than 15 hours to locate and then transport the individuals by helicopter.
SAR was called Saturday afternoon to the report of hikers on Sacajawea Peak who were caught in a snow storm. Apparently the group was in the mountainous area on a wildlife photography shoot. The lost individuals were able to contact authorities by cell phone. They said that they were located above Fairy Lake on the ridge line on the east side of Sacajawea Peak and that they were attempting to walk out of the area.
The group called back about an hour later saying that they had stopped walking and were making a fire.
SAR volunteers with skis and snow-shoes were taken to the Fairy Lake Trailhead by snowmobile to begin their search. Due to spotty cell phone reception, searchers had a difficult time pinning down a location of the missing party.
SAR skiers made several attempts to make their way up the Fairy Lake trail beginning at approximately 5 p.m. Saturday afternoon and throughout the night and early morning hours. The search area was primarily located in the steep bowl above the lake. The searchers reported low visibility, strong winds and snow slides in the search area. They were unable to locate the missing party.
Heavy snow and low clouds prevented the use of aircraft Saturday afternoon and evening. After weather conditions cleared during the early morning Sunday, helicopters from Summit Air Ambulance and the U.S Air Force were able to operate above the search area.
Just before sunrise Sunday the Air Force helicopter spotted the missing party at approximately 8,200 feet, near the Bridger Range ridge line. Three individuals were flown to Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport by Carisch Air Service and three were flown out by the Air Force. All six declined further medical treatment at the airport.
“It has been a long night for everyone,” said Lt. Jeff Wade of the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Department. “But we had a good outcome. The lost subjects were located, our volunteers are really tired, but all safe. Our thanks go out to all the agencies involved, including the Air Force, Summit Air Ambulance and Carisch Air.
“Everyone worked together very well under dangerous and difficult circumstance,” Wade said. “Successes like these are due to a great deal of hard work and coordination. We appreciate everyone’s help.”
Wade wanted to remind people that weather in the high country can change turn deadly very quickly. Being prepared is key. This means:
Keep an eye on the weather, dress for conditions,
have a charged cell phone with you, bring a GPS unit with you, bring extra clothing, food and water, tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back, and have a way to make a fire.