Silverthorne man reported missing on Colorado 14er found alive after 3 nights
October 10, 2017
Shuei Kato, the Silverthorne hiker missing since Saturday afternoon on Missouri Mountain near the town of Buena Vista, was found by search crews Tuesday around noon alive and in no need of obvious medical attention.
Chaffee County Sheriff John Spezze confirmed that a helicopter helping with the search operation Tuesday spotted a fire in the drainage for the Pine Creek area east of Missouri Mountain, which triggered sending in ground crews. They soon found Kato, 36, after he somehow managed to survive three consecutive subzero nights with only a coat and the makings for a fire.
"The sheriff's office thought he was dead, search and rescue, everyone thought he was gone," said Eric Ojala, a close family friend. "It's a miracle."
Details on how Kato went missing from the trail of the popular Colorado 14,000-foot mountain in the Collegiate Peaks or if he sustained even minor injuries during his three nights in the wilderness remain unknown at this time. Official word is expected from the Chaffee County sheriff's office later Tuesday.
"We're in the process now of trying to figure out what happened," said Spezze. "I assume he got lost."
Kato, a husband and father of two, was last believed to have summited Missouri Mountain alone at about noon on Saturday. His wife Valerie expected her husband back home later that day, and when he didn't turn up she called the Chaffee County sheriff's office at approximately 2 a.m. on Sunday.
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Sheriff's deputies responded to the Missouri Gulch trailhead shortly thereafter and found Kato's car, setting off an extensive search operation at first light Sunday that included more than 45 ground crew from three rescue groups including that of Summit County, in addition to three helicopters between Flight For Life from St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco and the U.S. Air National Guard High-Altitude Aviation Training Site based in Eagle County.
First checking known "high-probability areas" based on consistent rescue missions from the sheer volume of "14er" hikers in Chaffee County each summer and fall, the operation was ultimately unsuccessful and suspended by nightfall. As a heavy storm front descended on the area overnight, Chaffee's north rescue group decided to postpone the search Monday over avalanche danger from the severe, low-visibility conditions.
Once the weather cleared to a comfortable risk level by Tuesday morning, a team that included the Vail Mountain Rescue Group, personnel from Monarch Mountain ski area and a helicopter from the Air National Guard was back in action at 7:30 a.m. By around noon, the group located Kato and airlifted him back to Buena Vista to eventually reunite with his wife and young children.
"These are the outcomes you always want, for sure," said Mark Watson, special operations sergeant for the Summit County sheriff's office. "The first 72 hours are a big factor in everything, but experience and what you bring with you gives you a little bit of confidence than staying out there if you're without. Shelter, warmth and water — if you’ve got those, you can last some time on that."
This is a developing story that will be updated as more information becomes available.