Vail Valley man found safe after rescuing himself, according to searchers |

Vail Valley man found safe after rescuing himself, according to searchers

Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily
John Smith
Screenshot from Facebook

A Vail Valley man rescued himself after nearly 60 hours in the backcountry.

John Smith’s cellphone appeared on towers as he made his way down from a spot three miles south of Sylvan Lake on Powerline Road, south of Gypsum, where his truck got stuck in the snow. The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center in Panama City, Fla., spotted him Thursday morning when his cell phone found service, according to the Vail Mountain Rescue group.

Smith, a hunter, headed into the backcountry looking for lion tracks. His truck became mired in deep snow and Smith decided to stay with it and try to dig it out, said Kelly Ash, one of Smith’s friends who joined the potential rescue crew.

Smith went missing around 1 a.m. Tuesday. The last contact was at the Loaf ‘N Jug gas station in Eagle, VMR officials said.

HAATS helicopters flew search missions Wednesday, but Smith’s truck was apparently under a canopy of trees and searchers could not see it.

He had plenty of gas in his truck and was able to stay warm through the night.

Smith started to walk out Thursday morning around 10:30 a.m. Not long afterward his cellphone pinged on a nearby tower and he was in contact with rescuers.

Several of Smith’s friends rallied to join a search, but no search was needed since he walked out. Several of those friends headed up with heavy equipment to help retrieve his truck late Thursday morning.

The search for Smith was Vail Mountain Rescue’s second mission of 2020, in a year that’s only 10 days old.

Vail Mountain Rescue’s work will not cost you one thin dime. They’re a completely volunteer organization.

“We have never charged, and we never will, Vail Mountain Rescue’s Tom Schlader said.

Generally, Vail Mountain Rescue and other agencies are contacted by emergency dispatchers or the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, who is contacted by someone seeking help.

A rescue coordinator is on call 24/7. In this case, it was Schlader.

Once a call comes in, rescuers begin to rally to VMR’s Edwards headquarters where they begin planning their mission.

Usually, they find their lost person, and usually, that person is alive, Schlader said, if they’re notified in time.

Sometimes they’re not. When Yulong Chen didn’t return to China for two weeks after he was expected, Vail Mountain Rescue searchers were finally notified. Chen went missing on February 28, 2019. He was reported missing March 10, 2019. His skeletal remains were found in Vail’s Back Bowls in August.