A hoax avalanche report that turned into a real rescue and a lost hiker who tried to burn his own boots kept rescue crews busy over the weekend.
Missoula County Search and Rescue volunteers mobilized on Friday evening after a Missoula resident called 911 to report two friends caught in an avalanche near Edith Peak, north of Frenchtown. The 19-year-old caller then went out on his own snowmobile in an attempt to reach his friends.
“He reported they were caught in an avalanche with one of the riders missing, and other buried chest-deep in snow,” Missoula County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Brenda Bassett said of the unidentified man. “We initiated our Search and Rescue team, as well as Frenchtown Fire, Two Bear Air and a Forest Service officer. Meanwhile, he went out to look for them. He drove his truck up and got his snowmobile out of the vehicle, but ended up hitting a gate in the process and getting injured.”
A statement from Two Bear Air said the rider hit the handlebars and snowmobile with his chest after crashing into the gate in the dark. He was laying in the snow for about two hours before the Two Bear Air helicopter rescue team spotted him with their infrared camera at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday. Video from the incident shows the man several feet from his snowmobile, weakly waving at the helicopter.
“They came up on this individual first, and nobody knew at this time that he was injured,” Bassett said. “They were able to hoist him onto the helicopter and get him to a waiting ambulance.”
Searchers on five other snowmobiles were combing the Edith Peak and Six-Mile Road area and eventually met the other two riders. Bassett said both men, aged 21 and 30, were uninjured and told rescuers no real avalanche had occurred.
“Because they didn’t make the 911 call, they can’t be charged,” Bassett said. “If they had made call, they could be liable for making a false report.”
Earlier that evening, another Missoula County Search and Rescue team mobilized to find a lost hiker in the Kendall Creek area north Turah late Friday afternoon. Bassett said a man and woman were hiking in the area when both got cold and wet. They separated, with the woman returning to their vehicle while the man attempted a different route.
When the man didn’t turn up, the woman called some friends to help look for him. Then at 5:30 p.m., the man called 911 in need of rescue.
“He was very disoriented and confused,” Bassett said. “Apparently he had tried to cut his boots off and burn them with a lighter. His coat and shirt had gotten wet, and they were frozen solid like a board. They found him walking in his socks and without a shirt on.”
The woman’s friends found the man first, and were soon met by Missoula County Search and Rescue personnel. They evacuated him on an ATV to a waiting ambulance, which took him to the St. Patrick Hospital for treatment of hypothermia.
Volunteer crews have been called out at least six times since Jan. 1 in the Missoula area, according to Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Coordinator Sgt. Jeremiah Petersen.
“Every call has to be taken seriously,” Petersen said. “When these calls come in, the amount of resources needed through all hours of the night are taking away from the families of our volunteers. We ask that people be careful and go out prepared for conditions.”