Rescued hunters ‘did everything right’
A helicopter pilot who joined in the search for three missing hunters marveled after their rescue Wednesday about the fact they got through four nights of severe, wintry conditions in good shape.
“I tell you, aside from getting lost they did everything right,” said Maj. Tony Somogyi, executive officer of the Colorado Army National Guard’s High-Altitude Army Aviation Training Site in Gypsum.
The Denver-area hunters were suffering from minor hypothermia but had no other injuries when they were spotted and rescued from mountains in Garfield County by a helicopter crew from the training site Wednesday morning, authorities said.
However, other hunters remained stranded in the same area due to the blizzard that hit following the start of the second big-game rifle hunting season Saturday.
Mike Alsdorf, president of Garfield County Search & Rescue Inc., said the three were spotted on a ridge at about 10,700 feet in elevation between Bugle and Blue lakes. The area is several miles south of the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
“They were cold, hungry, tired, as anyone would be being four nights out in subzero temperatures,” Alsdorf said.
Authorities aren’t releasing the hunters’ names, but said all are male, over 25 and relatives. The three were taken to an undisclosed medical facility to be checked out.
Adam Ford, chief victims specialist for the Garfield County Sheriff’s Department, said the hunters’ relatives were relieved to hear of the rescue after several “nerve-wracking and frustrating” days, and they were appreciative of the efforts of rescuers.
Rescue crews from several counties participated in the search. Some 40 personnel were involved Wednesday.
Alsdorf said the missing men carried only enough food and clothing for a day of hunting when they headed out Saturday. However, when they became lost they reacted appropriately by hunkering down, building a fire and waiting for help, he said.
Somogyi said it’s a testament to the hunters that they made it through their ordeal mostly unscathed.
“Not many people can survive in those types of temperatures for four days. To me, that’s incredible. We’ve unfortunately done searches where people have been injured more or not made it out at all in that amount of time,” he said.
The hunters were able to contact two other members of their hunting party Sunday by radio, but then their batteries died. Search efforts by the other two Sunday were confounded by a foot of new snow, and they called for search and rescue help.
Search efforts Monday were set back by deep snow and white-out conditions. Alsdorf said winds reached 40 to 50 mph Monday, and snow depths were two to two-and-a-half feet in the trees, and deeper in some open areas.
However, the friends of the missing hunters heard three gunshots before nightfall, a distress call indicating the hunters were still out there.
Rescuers heard the shots again toward the end of the day Tuesday. Somogyi and another pilot had been searching by air that afternoon but weren’t able to respond to the distress call because the weather was deteriorating and they were low on fuel.
He said he assumed ground crews would be able to reach the hunters that evening, but it turned out they were in a confined area.
“We woke up (Wednesday) morning thinking they would be found, and they weren’t,” he said.
Searchers also rescued three stranded hunters in Garfield County on Tuesday. Two others who were overdue back home had made their way out of the mountains on their own by Wednesday afternoon. However, rescue crews in the county were continuing Wednesday to try to find and help multiple hunters whose whereabouts generally were known but who were stranded by snow.
Colorado Division of Wildlife officers were working to contact other hunters in the area to make sure they are properly prepared for winter conditions.