2019 Rescue Summaries

Crews use a boom pole and capstan to raise a litter carrying the body of a motorcyclist on Engineer Pass.

A Careflight helicopter comes in for a twilight landing at Vista Point to pick up an injured motorcyclist.

The Mt. Sneffels trailhead provides the backdrop for OMRT's triumvirate of vehicles, R11, R12 and R14.

Raising crew works off R12 to help bring a injured victim of a horrific ATV plunge back to the Corkscrew Pass road. 

OMRT operates under the auspices of the Ouray County Sheriff. Here, Lance FitzGerald monitors a body recovery operation.

Incident: Avalanche fatality

  • Location: Senator Beck Basin

  • Date: Jan. 5, 2019

  • Circumstances: Neighboring San Juan County requested an “agency assist” after a group of six —from the Silverton Avalanche School doing field exercises — got caught in a slide. Two in the party, including the instructor, took serious rides; the student was completely buried. Using beacons, the remaining five skiers located the sixth and began digging. After 50 minutes, the man’s unresponsive body was extracted. 

  • Operations: The Ouray team was called to assist at 3:35 p.m. that Saturday, responding to Red Mountain Pass with three vehicles, nine personnel and full winter equipment. An initial plan to dispatch a helicopter and crew to retrieve the body was scuttled because of additional avalanche danger, compounded by nightfall. The other five skiers successfully descended. Continuing winter weather precluded retrieval operations Sunday and Monday. But skies cleared Tuesday, and a Helitrax helicopter from Telluride picked up three Ouray rescuers at the top of the pass at 9 a.m., having earlier mitigated further avalanche danger with two explosives. The body recovery was routine and quick.

  • Outcome: Any incident involving a fatality is a somber experience. This one, involving numerous agencies and organizations from four counties, resulted in a meeting among them a week later to discuss and plan for better coordination.

  • Takeaway: Avalanche danger is a life-and-death matter.

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Incident: Lost hiker

  • Location: Blue Lakes Trail

  • Date: May 26, 2019

  • Circumstances: A Montrose man called 911 after he meandered off the Blue Lakes Trail. Weather (stormy) and trail conditions (still snowy) were difficult, and the call came late in the afternoon.

  • Operations: The team was called out and arrived at the trailhead at about 6 p.m. Three field teams were dispatched, one to head to map coordinates where the 911 call originated, the second to follow the trail itself, and the third with Rosa, the team’s new search dog, to take its cues from her response. (A sheriff’s deputy entered the lost man’s vehicle to obtain a scent object). After about an hour the first team heard a whistle, then reported voice contact with the subject. He was cold but uninjured, and given dry socks.

  • Outcome: The hiker was safely escorted to the trailhead, arriving in darkness at about 10:30. He was highly appreciative. In addition to Rosa, the team also utilized a newly implemented “missing persons behavior” methodology.

  • Takeaway: A whistle, working cell phone and stayed-put lost subject helped this incident end well.

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Incident: Lost hikers/dog

  • Location: Vista Point/Owl Creek Pass

  • Date: June 5, 2019

  • Circumstances: Team paged at 7 p.m. for a “welfare check” of two hikers off a trail near County Road 8. 

  • Operations: Team’s challenge was to obtain more information on status and location. After about an hour, the subjects were contacted, along with an injured, overweight dog. 

  • Outcome: A makeshift litter was used to drag the dog a half-mile to the road.

  • Takeaway: The two hikers (and dog) were lucky, as the Team mission statement doesn’t include canine rescues.

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Incident: Canyonering fall

  • Location: Amphitheater Bridge, Baby Bathtubs canyon

  • Date: June 7, 2019

  • Circumstances: A 16-year-old was participating in a guided group of six when he became tangled while roped amidst a waterfall. His rope was cut, and he “zip-lined” about 50 feet down a guiding line and hit his head on a rock.

  • Operations: Medic/rescuer Ruth Stewart was on the scene quickly, and OMRT’s primary vehicle, R12, arrived at the scene about 45 minutes later. A routine litter raise off R12’s boom ensued over the next hour. The wet conditions made hypothermia an issue, necessitating additional warming gear. 

  • Outcome: Out of the canyon, the patient was ferried to Fellin Park, where OMRT coordinated with a CareFlight helicopter.

  • Takeaway: New forms of alpine recreation have increased the demand on the Rescue Team in both skill sets and callout numbers. Also, a gawking crowd at the bridge scene added challenge.

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Incident: RAT injury

  • Location: Ridgway Area Trails, BLM land north of County Road 10

  • Date: July 8, 2019

  • Circumstances: A mountain biker wrecked and suffered a debilitating ankle injury.

  • Operations: The team performed a standard litter evacuation, utilizing its ATV, R14. 

  • Takeaway: The miles of recently built RAT system will only grow in popularity. OMRT has planned and trained to be ready for inevitable mishaps on the challenging trails.

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Incident: Faltering youngsters

  • Location: Blue Lakes Trail/Blaine Basin.

  • Date: July 9, 2019

  • Circumstances: A call for help was made after two girls in an Indiana school group became woozy. A Mountain Rescue hasty team reached the group, assessed the girls and slowly escorted them to the trailhead and lower elevation.

  • Operations: A second Rescue Team group stood ready for a litter evacuation operation if needed.

  • Outcome: All okay.

  • Takeaway: This was the same group needing rescue services in 2018.

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Incident: False alarms

  • Location: Several

  • Dates: July 25-Aug. 3, 2019

  • Circumstances: On three instances, OMRT was alerted to potential callouts, an injured ATVer along the Uncompahgre Gorge, a Jeep rollover on Imogene Pass and calls of “Help!” near Blue Lakes Pass.

  • Operations: In the first two incidents, other emergency responders had easy access, and team help was not needed. A squad of five rescuers responded to the third, but turned around at Wright’s Lake when it was determined no emergency existed.

  • Takeaway: With every callout, the team has to initially deal with incomplete information and unknown variables. An incident can range from a dramatic multi-day event to a nothing burger.

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Incident: Off-road motorcycle off road

  • Location: Vista Point Trail 

  • Date: Aug. 14, 2019

  • Circumstances: The rider suffered a knee injury about a mile down the trail.

  • Operations: Despite a delayed callout, the Rescue Team performed a routine trail evacuation.

  • Outcome: Patient was taken by private vehicle for medical attention.

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Incident: Canyoneering fall

  • Location: Oak Creek Canyon

  • Date: Aug. 15, 2019

  • Circumstances: A 37-year-old woman in a group of canyoneers suffered back, rib and elbow injuries in a 20-foot fall in a remote area about 2.5 miles up the canyon. OMRT called out at 2:30 p.m.

  • Operations: Three teams were deployed, with the first reaching the patient at about 4:45 to assess patient condition and provide aid. The third, with a wheeled litter, arrived 45 minutes later. With patient packaged and on pain meds and oxygen, the down-trail evacuation was successfully completed in an hour. 

  • Outcome: Patient loaded to awaiting ambulance at trailhead.

  • Takeaway: Wheeled litter evacuations from hiking trails are among the most common rescues by the team.

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Incident: ATV rollover

  • Location: Corkscrew Pass

  • Date: August 17, 2019

  • Circumstances: A couple from Oklahoma took a harrowing, end-over-end ride down in their ATV after it crept over road’s edge during a stop. The ATV came to a wheels-up rest about 300 feet at the bottom of a gully. Onlookers feared for serious injury or death.

  • Operations: That Saturday morning, the team was engaged in its monthly training, so response was rapid. Two members rode to the scene on their personal motorcycles, then scrambled down to assess the accident. Almost miraculously, both were alive and out of the ATV. Other team resources arrived, and the boom pole was mounted on the R-12 truck. The wife was packaged first in the litter and raised to the road, then loaded into the OMRT’s ATV, R-14, then driving to an awaiting medical helicopter at Ironton. The husband was raised and taken by ambulance to the Montrose hospital.

  • Outcome: The incident enjoyed an unlikely positive outcome. The team was lauded by doctor/emergency expert for responding with “professionalism, empathy, extraordinary talent, experience, caring and dedication.”

  • Takeaway: The couple’s remarkable survival was attributed to use of five-point seat-belt harnesses and a sturdy roll cage. The incident is highlighted in the 2019 Annual Report.

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Incident: Highway body recovery

  • Location: Highway 550, mm 82.5, near Idarado complex

  • Date: Aug. 15, 2019

  • Circumstances: Team was called out first thing in the morning to locate a missing vehicle off the perilous “Million Dollar Highway.”

  • Operations: Eleven members assembled at the rescue barn, heading up Red Mountain Pass shortly after 9 a.m. 

  • Outcome: The deceased driver, a 22-year-old from Grand Junction, was located and his body was recovered. But early speculation that a missing juvenile may have been in the vehicle led an intense search through thick willows. The man was the sole occupant, and rescuers were back to Ouray by 2 p.m.

  • Takeaway: Gravity works, as regular accidents on this singular stretch of unforgiving mountain highway continue to prove.

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Incident: ATV accident victim

  • Location: Imogene Pass basin

  • Date: Aug. 23, 2019

  • Circumstances: A woman was reported wandering after an ATV accident.

  • Operations: Team Lieutenant Patricia Eischied responded with a sheriff’s deputy in his vehicle at 2:45 p.m. near the pass summit. Two team members followed a half hour later in the R-14 ATV.  

  • Outcome: Patient was treated, packaged into a litter and taken to an awaiting ambulance at the Camp Bird Mine.

  • Takeaway: Any means to gain access to an accident victim can work.

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Incident: Motorcycle accident

  • Location: Near Vista Point, County Road 8

  • Date: Sept. 5, 2019

  • Circumstances: A 58-year-old man suffered painful rib, ankle and shoulder injuries in a wreck in a remote Owl Creek Pass area. Team called out at 6:50 p.m.

  • Operations: Three OMR members from Ridgway arrived at the Vista Point trailhead at 7:25, including Lance Johnson on his personal motorcycle. Additional personnel and resources on the way from Ouray. Johnson reached the patient 20 minutes later, just as a Careflight helicopter was reaching the VP campground. Patient was treated, packaged and loaded onto the R-14 ATV. A 10-minute ride took him to the waiting helicopter.

  • Outcome: The medical bird ferried the patient to the Montrose hospital.

  • Takeaway: This incident illustrates that OMR volunteers use their personal outdoor equipment and vehicles to achieve positive outcomes, with no expectation of compensation.

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Incident: Motorcyclist recovery

  • Location: Engineer Pass

  • Date: Sept. 20, 2019

  • Circumstances: Two cyclists from Castle Rock, Colo., were ascending the rugged pass. The second rider looked back and saw the other’s bike inexplicably off the road. He spotted his partner’s body 200 feet down at the canyon’s bottom.

  • Operations: OMRT prepared for a standard R-12 boom/capstan litter raise body recovery. But the rugged and narrow confines of Engineer Pass made positioning the truck difficult, taking 30 minutes.

  • Outcome: Once set up, the body was raised, loaded in R-12 and transported to the rescue barn. Callout took 3 1/2 hours and involved 11 team members.

  • Takeaway: The team noted that after a heavy-snow winter, and then with increased traffic and a dry summer, that road conditions on Imogene and Engineer passes were especially dangerous.

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Incident: Climber fall

  • Location: “Sandia slabs” above Twin Peaks trail

  • Date: Oct. 14, 2019

  • Circumstances: A husband called 911 reporting that his 42-year-old wife had fallen 20 feet while scrambling on rock. She suffered a serious head injury. The team callout came at noon.

  • Operations: The team called for the Air National Guard helicopter, and planned a wheeled litter evacuation, striking similar to one executed two months earlier. Rescuers were at the patient by 1 p.m., and had her in an ambulance 45 minutes later. 

  • Outcome: Patient was taken by ambulance to the Montrose hospital, and the military helicopter was sent back to Eagle.

  • Takeaway: This second Oak Creek-area evacuation showed that these mountains can make radio communications difficult, and in some canyons the team has to use alternatives, such as triangulation, to maintain contact. 

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Ouray Mountain Rescue Team, Inc. © 2019 - a Section 501(c)3 non-profit organization – Tax ID 75-2158092

P.O. Box 220 Ouray, CO 81427-0220