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Front Page » January 20, 2005 » Focus on Winter » Rescue in the snow
Published 3,918 days ago

Rescue in the snow

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Sun Advocate community editor

The Carbon County snow cat works to clear a road for itself after fuel was shuttled to it on snowmobiles from the county's search and rescue squad.

Last weekend wasn't a typical weekend for members of the Carbon County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Squad.

It was however a usual one for this time of year.

The squad is one of the few groups of people that often stand behind isolation, pain and possibly death when it comes to winter weather problems in the back country of our county. Their job is to find and rescue people who are having problems, are stranded or may be caught by the onslaught of the weather in the area.

"Last year we had 16 rescues we went out on," said Frank Pugliese, the squads commander at a recent Carbon County Commission meeting. "Eight of those were in the snow."

Pugliese was at the meeting to ask the commissioners to help the squad to get a snow cat they could use for their very own. He explained that often the one the county has is somewhere else being used by the electronics shop repairing translating equipment just when the rescue squad needs it most. Last year during one such instance, Emery County and the state aided in a rescue of a man with a heart attack because Carbon's cat was far away.

The commission approved the request, but it came just a few days before the unthinkable would happen.

Carbon's cat itself, that the county had counted on, became stranded near Star Point after heavy snow created a situation so it couldn't get out of the area.

Two county employees had gone up to do some repairs on the transmitters on the point. As they attacked the trail above Mohrland, it became apparent the snow was very heavy, between six and seven feet deep in some places. But they continued on.

Problem was that when they reached the transmitter they realized they had used up all their diesel fuel getting to the site and had very little for the return trip.

A radio call to dispatch and a conversation with Carbon County Sheriff James Cordova put to rest any hope of going up on Friday night to get the pair. Besides, they said they would be alright until the next day. The transmitting station is heated and the sheriff knew the two would be okay until the next morning.

But another situation also called the sheriff's attention. Many of the search and rescue efforts in the state work together when the chips are down and in Summit County officials were asking various counties to send some of their search and rescue squads to help with the search for buried skiers in the Dutch Draw area above The Canyons ski resort near Park City.

The sheriff sent a number of men to help in that search effort while he and the others prepared for a snowbound rescue on the Wasatch Plateau.

Pictured during the rescue efforts in Summit County are Frank Pugliese, Henry Etzel, Kerry Jensen, Roger Tolley, and Dennis Jensen of Carbon County Search and Rescue. Not pictured is Barry Atwood who also responded.

Saturday morning dawned clear and cold, but the crews headed to Mohrland. They were met there by the Emery County snowcat crew and a cat from the state. They also unloaded a number of snowmobiles to reach the stranded county workers.

The first snowmobiles reached the big yellow county cat about 10:30 a.m. Both men in the cat were fine.

But the snow was deep and the snowmobiles were even having a hard time.

Finally the cats arrived with extra fuel, but the county cat was down in a canyon and would have to work hard to get out, while the other cats would work from the top to clear a new road for them to all exit. Fuel was shuttled down on the snowmobiles, but it barely was enough to get the big cat going. The Emery car had to go back to Mohrland to shuttle up more fuel to complete the job.

All the equipment and men didn't get out until late Saturday afternoon.

But the search and rescue had done their job.

And as for the men who went to Summit County, they did theirs too, probing with poles along with dozens of others from all over the state.

The group only found one lifeless snowboarder where witnesses had said there were five.

It will probably be spring when the snow melts before anyone knows for sure there weren't others who were buried under that 30 feet of snow.

All these men risked their lives for others. The avalanche danger in the mountains last weekend was high.

That was obvious in Summit County where at least one person died.

And in the Wasatch Plateau the group was working along a 35 percent slope that could have slid down at any time if it was unstable enough.

The individuals in the search and rescue are ready at all times to go out and find and retrieve people.

Sometimes those they rescue are very alive and thankful.

Sometimes they aren't and they face the hardest task of all, returning remains to waiting loved ones.

But their tasks are an adventure and a job all at the same time, and something most of them love to do.

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