MISSION REPORTS

Male shed hunter found near Ojo Feliz

Map of the area northeast of Mora, NM where subject was located.

At 5:34 AM on May 4th, 2019 Taos Search and Rescue was called out for a search for a 42-year old male adult who had not returned from shed hunting on private land near Ojo Feliz, New Mexico.

The subject had gone looking for antlers with a friend on Thursday, May 2. That evening, the two separated and the subject did not return at the prearranged time and place. The subject’s friend later found the subject’s backpack. The subject’s friend left the area and returned again to find the subject’s backpack was now gone. The subject’s disappearance was reported Friday evening.

Over 65 search and rescue volunteers eventually were involved in this search, along with two planes and a National Guard helicopter.

A team of five TSAR members (Jim, Luke, LJ B., Chelsea and Craig) left incident base at 9am. They were assigned to perform a “line search” of an area near the subject’s missing backpack, and later searched an area to the northwest, but found no additional sign of the subject.

Meanwhile, two members of TSAR’s Base Unit (Jon W., Marcia) helped run communications and map preparation at Incident Base. One other TSAR member (Jerry) arrived later.

At approximately 3:30pm, a team from Santa Fe SAR that was leaving the area to return home found the subject, who had flagged them down. The subject was in good condition.

More coverage of this mission in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

As with all search and rescue incidents, Taos Search and Rescue was just one of many teams responding, and we thank our colleagues in the New Mexico SAR community for their fast and professional response to this incident. Mission Reports from Taos Search and Rescue are written from our perspective and from the accounts of our responders, and may lack detail about the entirety of the search and rescue response. Media are encouraged to contact the New Mexico State Police. For comments, corrections or questions about this report, please email info@sar-taos.org.

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Lost hiker rescued near Wheeler Peak

At 3:37pm on March 28, 2019, Taos Search and Rescue was called out for a search near Taos Ski Valley for a 36 year old female.

A female hiker had become lost and disoriented after attempting to ascend Wheeler Peak. The subject was not from the area and had no skis or snowshoes, and called 911 when she realized the terrain had become precarious and she was lost. She had begun to descend what she thought was a ski slope, but was actually the avalanche path known as Peace Sign Chute.

As the snow started warming up, it started to slide under her feet. The subject slid into a tree and called 911 between 11:30am – 12:00pm. She did not move until she was rescued.

Incident base was established at the Phoenix Restaurant area. TSAR’s first responders arrived at approximately 5pm, where New Mexico State Patrol was already waiting. TSAR formed the initial search team, with members Gary, Roy, and Kelly. This team ascended the Williams Lake Trail to a point below where the subject’s cell phone had “pinged” on the 911 call. The team attempted to signal the subject with an air horn but no return call was heard.

At this point, the team made an unusual decision to split. Kelly, an experienced backcountry skier and former ski patroller, would follow a skin track to the top of the north slope, which she had used many times before. Gary and Roy, on snowshoes, would attempt to ascend the north slope separately. After about 100 yard of ascent, Gary and Roy decided the way was impassable due to their equipment and inexperience dealing with avalanche conditions. They followed Kelly’s ascent from the bottom of the ridge, maintaining visual and radio contact with Kelly at all times.

Kelly ascended the slope on her alpine touring (AT) ski gear. At the time of the team’s dispatch from incident base, avalanche conditions were moderate to severe. However, as Kelly ascended the slope, she judged that the situation was improving rapidly as the sun went down and the temperature dropped, re-freezing the snowpack and decreasing avalanche danger.

An air ambulance service had been pre-emptively called and was hovering nearby, but could not remain in the Taos Ski Valley area due to wind conditions.

Eventually, Kelly’s voice calls to the subject were answered. After again evaluating the avalanche conditions at that altitude and aspect, and encouraged by the rapidly refreezing snow, Kelly crossed Pinky Finger chute, and then Ring Finger chute. Kelly was trying to stay as high as she could, skinning slowly over rocks and difficult terrain features. The subject’s voice calls led Kelly to Peace Sign Chute. It was getting dark. Kelly located the subject in the dark, on the opposite side of the chute.

Kelly judged that Peace Sign Chute had previously avalanched. She crossed the avalanche path below the crown, on the bed surface, and reached the 50 degree slope where subject was hanging onto a tree. Kelly reached the subject at 7:20pm. Other than a little discomfort, the subject was in good condition and was only mildly hypothermic. Kelly dressed the subject in warmer clothing and began to assess the descent.

TSAR member Chris and a TSV ski patroller were beneath Kelly, near the bottom of Peace Sign Chute. They dug a snow pit, an avalanche danger assessment tool which would allow them to judge the condition of the snow in the area to determine the danger to Kelly and the subject on the descent. Their assessment was that the snow was in low danger of avalanche, and it was best to descend the chute now rather than wait until morning.

Subject and Kelly descend Peace Sign Chute. Photo by Chris of TSAR.

Kelly guided the subject slowly down the tricky and technical descent. They were met midway by TSAR member Chris. After a long descent, the subject was handed off to waiting additional SAR personnel on the valley floor.

This was a very technical mission with many hazards. A very conservative approach was used throughout the decision making process. Many factors played a role in the success of this mission (stable snowpack, good weather, fit and mobile subject).

TSAR members Gary, Kelly, Roy, Chris, Jim, Chelsea and LJ B. responded to this mission.

As with all search and rescue incidents, Taos Search and Rescue was just one of many teams responding, and we thank our colleagues in the New Mexico SAR community for their fast and professional response to this incident. Mission Reports from Taos Search and Rescue are written from our perspective and from the accounts of our responders, and may lack detail about the entirety of the search and rescue response. Media are encouraged to contact the New Mexico State Police. For comments, corrections or questions about this report, please email info@sar-taos.org.

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Lost hunter located in Mora County

Image from the USFS – Carson.

At 3:23am on January 29th, 2019, Taos Search and Rescue was called out for a search in the Angel Fire area for a 52 year old male.

Four elk hunters had left the lodge at a private hunting camp in Mora County at 6:00am the previous day, January 28. The subject and three other hunters were in one UTV. When they got to their hunting area, the four spread out. The subject was by himself. The other hunters heard one shot, followed by a second and then a third, but not three quick, consecutive shots indicating emergency. The other hunters believed that the subject probably wounded the elk, then shot twice more. The other hunters found the elk dead, with throat cut to bleed out. The subject wasn’t with the elk. The other hunters in the party field dressed the elk, expecting the subject to show up. Around noon, when the subject didn’t return, a search was initiated.

TSAR members Gary and LJ K. responded to the initial callout, and deployed from incident base with a member of Cibola SAR at 8:30am. The team was assigned a search area to the west of the last known location of the subject, and proceeded to the search area by vehicle. The road conditions (rocky, muddy, icy and a stream crossing) necessitated high clearance four wheel drive. After driving as close as possible to the assigned area, the team proceeded on foot approximately 1/2 mile to the southeast corner of the area. Upon reaching the assigned area, the team received a phone call from IB advising them to return to base as the subject had been located.

TSAR members Kenton and Kristine responded later, but did not arrive at Incident Base before the subject was found.

As with all search and rescue incidents, Taos Search and Rescue was just one of many teams responding to this mission, and we thank our colleagues in the New Mexico SAR community for their fast and professional response to this incident.

Disclaimer: Mission Reports from Taos Search and Rescue are written from our perspective and from the accounts of our responders, and may lack detail about the entirety of the search and rescue response. Media are encouraged to contact the New Mexico State Police. For comments, corrections or questions about this report, please email info@sar-taos.org.

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Injured campers rescued near Trampas

At 4:15pm on October 7, 2018, Taos Search and Rescue activated their team to join a large-scale ongoing rescue at the Trampas trailhead of the Carson National Forest, southeast of Trampas, New Mexico. Two subjects were seriously injured and required a 6-mile evacuation to the trailhead via a litter.

The two subjects were camping near Trampas Lakes at 11,000 feet. In the very early morning, a tree fell onto their tent. Both subjects sustained serious injuries.

 

TSAR members Kenton, Nate and Karlis arrived at incident base at 6:20pm. At this point, Fire and EMS teams had been providing medical care and were evacuating the subjects down to the trailhead. TSAR’s initial responders were tasked, along with three members of Atalaya SAR, with hiking up trail to assist the Fire and EMS teams in the litter evacuation. They departed incident base as Team 5 at approximately 6:45pm. Arriving later from TSAR were members Roy and Brady, who also headed up trail to assist in the litter evacuation, and Gary, who assisted at incident base.

Team 5 reached the subjects and Fire/EMS teams at 8:48pm. More SAR teams arrived from further down-trail, and two new teams were formed: one for each subject. Both subjects were placed into wheeled litters for the approximately 3 mile evacuation back down-trail.

The evacuation down-trail was a difficult process, as it had long gone completely dark and the trail was rocky and crossed several small streams. Incredible professionalism and teamwork was displayed by the many agencies involved in this rescue.

At approximately 12:30 am, both litters reached the trailhead and both subjects were immediately turned over to waiting ambulances. Both subjects are expected to recover from their injuries.

This mission involved the work of dozens of first responders (volunteer and non-volunteer), and many, many different agencies from across the state of New Mexico. Litter evacuations, especially of this length, are extremely strenuous and every last responder and resource was appreciated.

Disclaimer: Mission Reports from Taos Search and Rescue are written from our perspective and from the accounts of our responders, and may lack detail about the entirety of the search and rescue response. Media are encouraged to contact the New Mexico State Police. For comments, corrections or questions about this report, please email info@sar-taos.org.

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Missing hiker found at Serpent Lake

Jicarita Peak in the fall. Image courtesy US Forest Service.

On the morning of September 30 at 12:04am, Taos Search and Rescue activated their team to respond to a report of a missing hiker in the high mountains of the Serpent Lake area of the Pecos Wilderness and Carson National Forest, about an hour drive from Taos, New Mexico.

The subject was a male in his 70’s who had gone hiking with a group to Horseshoe Lake. The subject was carrying a tent and other gear for an overnight journey. Early into the hike, the subject complained to his group of vague medical discomfort with no specific complaint. The subject told his group that he would return to the trailhead, alone.

The rest of the subject’s group completed their hike but did not see the subject on their return journey, and did not find him at the trailhead. The group conducted a hasty search of the trail and nearby area, and called 911 after the subject could not be located.

During the night, TSAR member Roy D. deployed to the mission, arriving at incident base at 2am. Teams were already in the field. Roy and a search and rescue responder from Cibola SAR deployed at first light and were tasked with sweeping the Angostura Loop trail to see if the subject had travelled that way.

During mid-morning, the subject responded to a cellphone call from the incident command team. The subject had rested after splitting from his group, but then decided to continue up-trail. The subject took a turn to the north, off the trail his companions were on, towards Serpent Lake and camped there overnight. He was located by search and rescue responders shortly after.

In the morning, three more TSAR members – Carl S., Michael P., and Marcia R. – arrived on scene but the subject was located before they were deployed into the field.

When you’re in the wilderness, it’s important that someone knows your plans and – unless weather or other circumstance prevents – stick to those plans or let someone know when plans change.

Taos Search and Rescue, Philmont SAR, Santa Fe SAR, Cibola SAR, Atalaya Search and Rescue and a team from Los Alamos responded to this mission. This mission report was prepared by Nate Berkopec of TSAR. The Incident Commander for this mission was Nate Lay.

Disclaimer: Mission Reports from Taos Search and Rescue are written from our perspective and from the accounts of our responders, and may lack detail about the entirety of the search and rescue response. Media are encouraged to contact the New Mexico State Police. For comments, corrections or questions about this report, please email info@sar-taos.org.

 

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Wandering subject found in search near Cleveland

Steve Lucht from Mountain Canine Corps and his K9 partner, Christy.

On the morning of August 13th, Taos Search and Rescue was called out for a search in the vicinity of Cleveland, New Mexico. A 68 year old male with poor memory and a previous stroke had gone for a walk on his property at 1pm and had not returned.

TSAR member Nate Berkopec responded and was deployed on the first team to leave incident base, a K9 unit from Los Alamos’ Mountain Canine Corps. Subject’s wife indicated that the subject was a mineralogist and enjoyed walking around the property hunting for interesting rocks and fossils, but had lost some memory and mental function after a stroke four years ago. The subject had wandered away once before a few years ago. Subject’s family had searched much of the property the night before with no trace of the subject.

The K9 team (Team One) started an area search along a road that led to the subject’s favorite hiking spot, and the natural direction he would have traveled from the point he was last seen. Wind conditions were poor for a K9 search, and no sign of the subject was found.

A second TSAR member, Bob Lawrence, arrived later and also participated in the search.

About 2 hours after starting the search, an ATV team found the subject approximately 1 mile northwest of the property along a road. Subject was dazed and disoriented, but physically fine.

Anyone with memory issues and the ability to walk is at risk for wandering behavior. The Alzheimer’s Association has produced a helpful checklist for caregivers of those who may be at risk for wandering.

This mission report was prepared by Nate Berkopec. Map data for TSAR members is available here. The Incident Commander for this mission was Eric Roybal.

Incident Base after the search had concluded

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Wandering subject found in San Juan Mountains

On the night of August 7th, Taos Search and Rescue was called out for a missing male with Alzheimer’s who had wandered away from his group at a private ranch in the San Juan mountains. During a meditation retreat, the group the subject was with had closed their eyes to meditate. Subject said they would walk back to the retreat lodge on their own, and went missing. No one was sure which direction the subject had left the point he was last seen, as the entire group had closed their eyes to meditate.

TSAR members Roy Dunlap and Nate Berkopec arrived in the middle of the night and were deployed as Team One. The subject had gone missing at the mouth of a very narrow canyon. The canyon was about a mile northwest of the retreat lodge. The retreat lodge had been extensively searched by the retreat staff. Team One was tasked with searching to the northwest, into the canyon. After traveling two miles through the canyon, Team One decided that the hike was probably beyond the physical ability of someone with Alzheimer’s who was apparently wearing sandals, and returned to base.

About an hour after TSAR returned to base, an incoming search team from another organization located the subject.

Anyone with memory issues and the ability to walk is at risk for wandering behavior. The Alzheimer’s Association has produced a helpful checklist for caregivers of those who may be at risk for wandering.

This mission report was prepared by Nate Berkopec. Map data for TSAR teams is available here. The Incident Commander for this mission was Robert Valdez.

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Search for missing hiker in TSV

On the 28th of July, Taos Search and Rescue participated in a search for a female hiker who had been reported missing after failing to return to camp. Two female hikers were staying at a cabin on Twining Road in Taos Ski Valley. The pair hiked up Bull of Woods trail and put their tent somewhere around Bull of Woods pasture (near the intersection of trail to Gold Hill), spending Saturday night in this camp. The next day, they planned to summit Gold Hill and then return to their camp at Bull of Woods by Sunday afternoon, for a return to their Ski Valley cabin on Monday.

One hiker came down Sunday around 6 PM and said that she had not seen her friend since somewhere below Gold Hill. The reporting hiker had become worried and hiked out, not to the camp, but to TSV, and not along way they had come, but down the “Long Hill Canyon” trail.

At about 12:30AM on Monday a team from Los Alamos, and a team of two from TSAR (Roy Dunlap/Brady Coleman) left TSV, hiking up Bull of Woods to the area around Bull of Woods pasture. TSAR and Los Alamos spent 2 hours trying to find the tent at the location the reporting hiker said it would be without success. The team split up; the Los Alamos team went up Gold Hill trail towards Goose Lake, and Gold Hill. TSAR hiked down Bull of Woods Road then up the Long Hill Canyon trail, towards Gold Hill from the direction the reporting hiker had hiked out. TSAR eventually turned around and headed back to base camp, arriving at base at about 6 AM.

At base, IC told TSAR that they had a GPS location of the missing hiker’s cell phone (she couldn’t call but had tried) and had traced it to the ‘camp’ at Bull of Woods Pasture. The missing hiker had returned to the camp as planned, and spent the night there.

Brady Coleman and Nate Berkopec prepared this mission report. Roy Dunlap and Brady Coleman responded to this mission from TSAR. Also responding was a team from Los Alamos.

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Search for missing male at Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

TSAR Training Officer Chris Kodey searches the Gorge.

On May 18th and May 19th, 2018, Taos Search and Rescue participated in a search for a male subject near the Gorge Bridge. State police had located his car in the parking lot of the Gorge rest area on Friday, May 18th. SAR was tasked with searching the area for any sign of the subject.

12 TSAR members responded to the incident over two operational periods. On Friday evening, teams from TSAR searched both sides of the gorge. The drone team was not deployed due to high winds.

TSAR members Kenton Pass, Drone Unit leader Karlis Viceps and FAA certified Drone Pilot Richard McCracken check wind conditions on the Gorge Bridge. The drone team cannot fly when gusts are above 25 MPH.

On Saturday, many more teams arrived and an extensive search of the area was carried out. TSAR deployed its drone and off-highway vehicle units for the first time. After no sign of the subject was found, the search was suspended.

Teams responding to the incident included TSAR, Santa Fe SAR, Atalaya SAR, Philmont Scout Ranch, and more. Richard Goldstein was Incident Commander for the first operational period, and Al Webster for the second operational period.

TSAR would like to thank our external partners for their swift and capable response to this mission: Justin Dean at the Bureau of Land Management, and the Warchief’s Office at Taos Pueblo. Both sent resources to the mission area and assisted swiftly in giving searchers the necessary land access permissions.

Map data for Taos Search and Rescue members is available here.

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Lost hikers at Middle Casa Falls

TSAR Medical Unit leader Roy Dunlap and Philmont SAR member Carl consult with Incident Base after crossing a FS gate during the search.

A pair of approximately 60-year-old hikers called 911 on the evening of May 9, 2018. They had become lost after attempting to find a waterfall near the Middle Fork of the Rio De La Casa near Mora, New Mexico. They stated they could not find the waterfall and did not know where they were, and they had a small amount of food and water, and a whistle. A location could not be obtained from their call.

Team 1 (including 2 TSAR members, Roy Dunlap and Nate Berkopec) departed from Incident Base at around 4:00 AM. Team 1’s first task was to clear the North Fork of the Rio de la Casa, as it had a waterfall close by which was close to the subject’s vehicle. A search of the area revealed no signs of the subject and no responses to auditory attraction methods (whistles, foghorns, yells, etc).

After returning to the subject’s vehicle, Team 1 headed south towards the Middle Fork. Within 1/4 mile, a possible footprint track was located. Shortly afterward, a second, distinct set of tracks was found. Both tracks headed south, further down the trail. The tracks often intersected and appeared at times to walk in single file. There was no return track.

About 1.5 miles uptrail, the track became confused as the footprints stopped abruptly and doubled back. Team 1 was able to pick up the footprints again on a small side trail leading west.

After crossing through a Forest Service gate, the footprint trail became harder to follow as the ground became thick with pine needles and moss. Throughout this time, Team 1 continued attempts to contact the subjects with whistles and yells.

Incident base radioed Team 1 to report that the subjects had again called 911, and said that they could hear the search team. 15 minutes later, Incident Base was able to obtain an exact coordinate via handset-based Enhanced 911. Team 1 proceeded to the coordinates, where they found the subjects.

The subjects were alive and well but exhausted after having spent a night in the open. They were unusually well-prepared for their emergency: they carried emergency food and water, mylar “space” blankets, whistles, and compasses. They had become lost after deciding to turn back and then losing the trail. They were carrying one GPS device, a Garmin eTrex, which the subject said was not working correctly. Subjects were checked for any medical difficulty and walked back to their vehicle.

This search showed the value of being prepared and thinking smart in the wilderness. The subjects, though only going out on a day hike, were prepared to hunker down for the night with shelter, food, water and even signaling devices. Second, they followed the instructions of the 911 dispatcher and did not move from their location. This makes it much easier for search and rescue teams to locate a lost person. A moving target is much harder to find than a stationary one, and lost persons may move away from search teams trying to find them. Finally, this mission showed that your navigational tools are only as good as your skills in using them. Though the subjects had several compasses, they did not have an adequate map and may have been able to find their way home with more knowledge of how to troubleshoot their GPS unit. Know and understand your navigational tools.

Incident base was the Walker Flats trailhead. TSAR and Philmont SAR were the teams that responded, though Santa Fe SAR and many more members of TSAR were en route when the subjects were found. Nathan Lay was Incident Commander. Nate Berkopec wrote this report.

Map data including TSAR member activity is available here.

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