Stranded hunters rescued after 4 nights in Flat Tops | AspenTimes.com

Stranded hunters rescued after 4 nights in Flat Tops

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Courtesy Garfield County Search and RescueThe search area near White Owl Lake, where three stranded hunters were found Wednesday morning after a three-day search in blizzard-like conditions.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Three big game hunters from Denver, who had been missing since Saturday and survived four nights in sub-freezing temperatures and heavy snows in the Flat Tops area, were located and rescued early Wednesday.

The hunters spotted a National Guard helicopter that was involved in the search around 9:15 a.m. Wednesday and fired off three rounds from a hunting rifle, Garfield County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Tanny McGinnis said.

Rescuers on snowmobiles heard the shots and headed in that direction. They found the hunters on a ridgeline south of Bugle Lake, at around 10,700 feet elevation, she said.

The helicopter was able to land in a clearing and transport them to a command post to be examined. They were later taken to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs for further examination.

“They were cold, hungry and tired, but were found to be in good condition, besides mild hypothermia,” McGinnis said. The men’s identities were not released at the request of the family, she said.

“I’m extremely proud of, not only of the tireless efforts of Garfield County Search and Rescue, Inc., but all the assisting agencies that helped with the successful rescue of three precious lives,” Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said of the three-day mission, which happened during the season’s first significant snowstorm with near blizzard conditions at times and freezing temperatures.

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The search began after a group of five hunters, all from the Denver area, set out into the remote section of Garfield County near White Owl Lake, north of Glenwood Springs, early last Saturday morning, according to the sheriff’s office.

Two of the hunters returned to camp later that evening, but three did not. The other two searched all day Sunday and at one point the three missing hunters made contact with the others via hand-hand radio, McGinnis said.

“They stated they were OK and were hunkering down due to the blizzard-like conditions,” she said.

That evening, the other two hunters made it to an area where they could notify law enforcement of the missing parties. However, due to the late hour and deteriorating weather conditions, a search was not launched until Monday morning. A search command post was set up at a cabin at White Owl Lake.

After two days of searching by foot and on snowmobiles, and from the air when the weather allowed, the missing hunters were finally spotted from the helicopter Wednesday morning. Searchers said they also heard gunshots at one point on Tuesday and continued to scour the area until midnight with no luck.

The search involved more than two dozen personnel from Garfield, Mesa, Eagle, Routt, Summit and Grand County search and rescue teams, as well as Garfield County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Management and Victim Response Team and the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

jstroud@postindependent.com