A search for 2 Billings hunters who became disoriented in a blinding snow storm, ended in success yesterday evening in Meagher County. At 4:15 pm, Meagher County 911 received a call from a hunter who stated he and his hunting partner had been walking in circles due to a complete white out and didn’t know where they were at. The temperatures were already subzero and the winds drove the temps even lower; daylight was going to run out quickly. Diligent questioning by 911 Dispatcher Laura Taylor helped to get a starting point for the searchers and a page was sent out to Meagher County Search and Rescue.
FWP Warden John Lesofski was closest to the search area and gave a head start to the search when he located the hunters’ pickup. All searchers were dealing with zero visibility conditions, and relied on their knowledge of the roads they were navigating, to cautiously make their way towards the hunters starting location.
Due to the heavy snow, the GPS location information could only ping the cell tower that was nowhere near the hunters’ location. Due to the geographic location, it narrowed the area for cell coverage, and helped to narrow down the search area.
Continued contact with the hunters’ and specific questioning by 911 Dispatch drove the search direction to one area. The hunters were instructed to stay in the willow cover they had found and not to move. FWP Warden Lesofski and Deputy Cody Wilson had turned on their light bars and sirens and together with SAR members, inched towards the intended area. Due to the amount of snow, John Lesofski announced he could go no farther and SAR would have to go in by snowmobile to reach them. It was a welcome sound when the hunters said they could hear the faint sound of a siren and awhile later they could see red and blue flashing lights in the distance. SAR members were still making their way to the location so the hunters were advised to start walking towards the lights. Even after the hunters could no longer verbalize with Dispatch, their open phone allowed Dispatcher Kathy Palmer to keep encouraging them to make their way towards the flashing lights. The heavy breathing and crunch of the snow assured us that they were still on the move. There was a tense moment when the cell phone lost connection, but only seconds later FWP Warden announced over the radio; “I have them”.
One of the hunters was taken to Mountainview Medical Center for possible frostbite; was treated and released.
This incident shows that when out hunting in Montana always be prepared for the worst. When they left their vehicle it was about 15 degrees, and sunny. Within a short time the weather took a turn for the worst. The hunters couldn’t see the sun and were unable to gain their bearings.
Even if you are going for a “short” hike from your vehicle, always take your hunting pack with you. We have had numerous searches over the years for people who were only going to take a short hike so they left their survival gear behind. A “short” hike can turn to tragedy very quickly.
Thank you to the Meagher County Sheriff's Office Dispatchers and the Volunteer Search and Rescue members. None of this would have been possible without the dedication of all these individuals.