Pilots recount tricky rescue of hunters in GarCo
GYPSUM — In the hangar of the Colorado Army National Guard’s High-Altitude Army Aviation Training Site in Gypsum, pilot and Chief Warrant Officer 5 Dale Jensen of Eagle swung the back door of the OH-58 helicopter open Wednesday.
“It still smells like campfire,” he said, as the pungent odor of burned wood drifted from the back seat of the chopper that the two had just used to rescue three hunters who had been missing since Saturday.
Jensen and his copilot, civilian contractor and retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Carl Grey, also of Eagle, found the hunters in an area covered with about three feet of snow. Although the hunters had made a fire, the two pilots didn’t see the smoke.
“We saw them waving their arms,” Jensen said.
He set the small helicopter down amidst the thick trees.
“It was tight, and we didn’t know what was under the snow,” he said.
While Jensen hovered just above the snow, Grey jumped out to see how deep it was before they set the chopper down. The snow hit Grey about waist high.
The temperature when the two pilots found the missing trio was about 5 degrees.
The pilots ferried the hunters out one at a time, carefully flying the chopper straight up through the thick forest. The trees were so thick, the pilots said, the ridgeline could have been 200 feet away or 50 feet away but anyone on the ground couldn’t tell.
The pilots said the hunters did everything right once they were lost.
Jensen held out an aerosol can with its top knocked off. The hunters had used it to melt snow before drinking it. They had built a fire. They had stayed in place. One of them had a cell phone equipped with a GPS, but the phone died as he was trying to call out Sunday evening.