MISSION REPORTS

Mission 100 Report: Rio Grande Gorge

A New Mexico State Police helicopter hovers in the Rio Grande Gorge while assisting with Mission #100. Credit: Chris Kodey

In the pre-dawn hours of Saturday, August 15, New Mexico Search and Rescue Incident Commander Richard Goldstein requested assistance with Mission #100 in the Rio Grande Gorge below the John Dunn Bridge. 

A man and a woman were reported to have gone missing after setting off to attempt floating the section of the river below the bridge on an inflatable air mattress.

Members of Taos SAR’s ground, base, drone and swiftwater units responded, along with members of the New Mexico State Police, Los Alamos Auxiliary Fire Brigade and Rio Arriba County Fire & Emergency Services Swiftwater Rescue Team.

Incident Base was initially setup at the John Dunn Bridge, and John Nettles of Swiftwater Unit set off from the bridge in the morning. Taos SAR Ground Unit members were also deployed on teams searching the river banks on foot while drone unit members searched the area from above. 

After reports of shouting were heard below the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, Incident Command Post was moved to the visitor’s center at the bridge, while assets were also moved to the rim of the Gorge above Manby Hot Springs, providing easier access to the river nearer that subjects’ location and also a communications relay between IC and teams operating in the gorge. 

Eventually, the male subject hiked out on his own, made it the rim and informed IC of his friend’s whereabouts. Shortly thereafter, ground teams made contact with the female subject still in the Gorge and assisted her to hike out to the east rim where an ambulance and emergency services were waiting to assist her. 

For more on this mission, see this report from the Los Alamos Auxiliary Fire Brigade.

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TSAR Responds to Successful Mission in Rio Grande Gorge

LJ Beckman and the drone team captured this shot of the Rio Grande Gorge visitors center during the mission.

On May 5, Taos Search and Rescue assisted a mission in the Rio Grande Gorge.

During a private trip down the river a day earlier, John Nettles from TSAR’s Swiftwater Rescue Unit happened to come across an injured man on a beach who was hungry and cold. Nettles and his party didn’t have an extra personal flotation device or the needed gear such as a wetsuit to carry the man down the river safely, but gave him some food and told him they’d call for help as soon as possible. 

After law enforcement was notified, assistance was requested from emergency responders and search and rescue teams across the state, including Taos Search and Rescue (TSAR). 

Four TSAR units responded to the scene – swiftwater, technical (high angle), drone and base.

A helicopter from the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s office and medics from the Bernalillo County Fire Department would work to retrieve the man by lifting him to a waiting ambulance. But contingency plans were also set in motion. 

TSAR’s Drone Unit met at the Rio Grande Gorge Visitor Center at 5:30 a.m. While the various teams waited for a helicopter to arrive, a drone was deployed from the rim of the gorge with the goal of gathering precise coordinates of the subject. 

The subjects were located within two minutes of deployment,” said Drone Unit leader LJ Beckman. “We were fortunate to already know the general location to search and the subjects and Sheriffs’ had a campfire that made the locating them very quick.”

Meanwhile Nettles and Swiftwater Unit leader Kelly Grossetete were preparing to put oars in the river and members of the TSAR high angle team were readying gear in case there should be a need to hoist the subject up from the river to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. 

The man was successfully lifted to safety via a short haul line attached to the helicopter and, as with all missions, the TSAR team was left with lessons learned that will be integrated into future training and missions. 

Learn more about TSAR by keeping up with our website and following the team on Facebook and Instagram. 

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Taos Search and Rescue During the Coronavirus / COVID19 public health emergency

During these unprecedented times, Taos Search and Rescue will still be responding to missions as usual, rest assured. But given the current circumstances with coronavirus/COVID19, SAR responders will not be dispatched out of state until the Governor lifts the ban on out-of-state travel for state employees. To maintain our own health and to help prevent the potential spread of the virus, we have cancelled our in-person general meeting and training set for Wednesday, March 18. We will be holding a virtual meeting and training online this week instead to keep each other informed and sharp for the next mission!

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Successful Sunday Night Search For Skiers Near Santa Fe

On Sunday, February 9, 2020 three members of Taos Search and Rescue joined teams from across northern and central New Mexico for a mission in the Pecos Wilderness above Santa Fe.

Three backcountry skiers contacted law enforcement from the Pecos Wilderness east of the Santa Fe Ski Basin Sunday evening. They reported that they had skinned up Raven’s Ridge to Deception Peak, followed the Knife Edge to Lake Peak and intended to ski down Heaven’s Hill but took the wrong chute. The party came across a jumble of rocks and one of the skiers lost both his skis and was only able to recover one of them.

The group began to make their way up a trail heading to Puerto Nambe but became exhausted, stopped, built a fire and called for help.

The search and rescue mission was activated at around 18:30 with Ski Santa Fe as incident base and Al Webster as incident commander.

Three teams were assembled consisting of members of Atalaya Search and Rescue, Cibola Search and Rescue, the Los Alamos Auxiliary Fire Brigade, Santa Fe Search and Rescue Group, Albuquerque Mountain Rescue Council and Taos Search and Rescue.

The teams hit the trail in waves as more help arrived on skis and snowshoes. The first team made contact with the subjects after about three hours on the trail. All three of the subjects were uninjured and showed no signs of hypothermia, but were tired.

One member of Atalaya SAR manually adjusted the bindings on their skis and gave them to the skier who had lost a ski. The team was carrying extra snowshoes and all team members and subjects were able to make the slow hike back out to Ski Santa Fe, arriving around sunrise.

Webster reported that the successful mission went well in part because the subjects were able to report accurate coordinates for their location.

“We knew right where they were,” he said.

Temperatures were well below freezing in the Pecos with some snowfall and wind, but all parties emerged from the woods healthy, happy and perhaps a bit hungry.

Thanks to everyone involved for staying up late on a Sunday night to ensure a successful outcome!

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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 [email protected]

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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 [email protected]

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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 [email protected]

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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 [email protected].

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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 [email protected]

 

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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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