Stranded snowmobilers rescued near Freeman Reservoir

Quotable

“They got stuck in an area that was difficult. But they made the right decision to stay with their machine, and I want to emphasize that.”

— Tim Jantz, Moffat County sheriff, about three area teens who got lost Sunday in Routt National Forest

Three Moffat County teens were recovering Monday after spending Sunday night stranded in Routt National Forest north of Craig.

Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz said William Burke, 17, Mason Burke, 13, and Justin McAlexander, 17, were snowmobiling Sunday above Freeman Reservoir, in an area known to local snowmobilers as “Top of the World.”

Around 6 p.m., McAlexander contacted his father to tell him the group had gotten stuck and was in need of assistance, Jantz said.

McAlexander’s father called the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office, which alerted Moffat County Search and Rescue.

At 8 p.m., search and rescue teams established a base of operations for the search and began looking for the stranded group.

But, blizzard conditions from Sunday’s storm and diminished snowpack slowed the search, Jantz said.

“There’s no base to the snow we have, and that made it very hard to work in,” he said. “… The search and rescue group did an outstanding job in terrible conditions all night.”

Searchers continued to look for the group all night with no success.

At midnight, searchers enlisted the help of several residents with knowledge of the search area, among them Richard Oberwitte and Jack Reed, Jantz said.

Although searchers were not able to locate the group Sunday night, Jantz said one of the teens had a cell phone that was able to send text messages even though it could not make outgoing calls, so searchers were able to keep in contact with the boys.

Jantz said the teens set fire to one of the snowmobiles to keep warm throughout the night.

When fuel ran out, they attempted to make a fire using other sources of fuel but blizzard conditions hampered those efforts.

At 7:46 a.m. Monday, searchers made contact with one of the stranded boys as he attempted to climb out of the ravine where the group was stranded.

He was able to show searchers where the other two boys were located before being taken to search and rescue’s base of operations, where he was handed over to an EMS crew from The Memorial Hospital, Jantz said.

Jantz said the remaining boys were stranded in a ravine so steep searchers had to snowshoe to them rather than use snowmobiles.

At about 8 a.m., searchers began the trek to the two remaining boys. At 10:06 a.m., the boys were moved out of the ravine and at 11:40 a.m. they arrived at the base of operations, where they were also handed over to a TMH EMS crew, Jantz said.

Jennifer Riley, TMH chief of organizational excellence, said William and Mason Burke were admitted Monday to TMH. William was listed in stable condition as of Tuesday afternoon while Mason was treated and released Monday, she said.

Despite getting stranded, Jantz praised the three boys for making the best of a bad situation.

“They got stuck in an area that was difficult,” the sheriff said. “But they made the right decision to stay with their machine, and I want to emphasize that.

“If they had tried to leave on foot, their tracks would have been covered by the blizzard conditions we had (Sunday) night and we would have been no closer to finding them.”

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