Two snowmobilers rescued; third dies
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. ” Two of the three snowmobilers reported missing north of Silverthorne were found alive late Tuesday after an intensive all-day search involving a National Guard Blackhawk helicopter and 35 rescuers.
Greg Morris of Florida and Murry Melloni of Littleton, Colo. were found two miles from Elliot Ridge on the west side of Eagle County late Tuesday evening. In their statement to the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, they confirmed the third member of their party, John McKibben of Kremmling, Colo., died sometime during the night on Monday.
The search and rescue mission has been suspended for the night. Efforts will resume Wednesday to find McKibben’s body.
McKibben, a longtime Kremmling resident and self-employed concrete contractor, had separated himself from the group, according to authorities. McKibben also had two sons and a brother who live in Grand County.
The Blackhawk helicopter that joined the search party spotted a campfire on its way back to its base in Eagle, and was able to land close enough to the campfire to allow the crew to snowshoe to the site and recover the two individuals.
A spokesperson at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs could confirm the two rescued were transported there by helicopter.
According to Paulette Horr with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, the rescued men were in better condition than anticipated, and were only suffering from mild exposure.
“They were very disoriented from the cold and the storm, but one of them was able to tell us they were with McKibben when he died,” Horr said. “They couldn’t tell us where exactly they had lost him without looking at a map, so depending on what information we can get, we are not sure when recovery efforts will begin (Wednesday).”
The three men went out on snowmobiles for a day trip on Sunday, and when they did not return that evening, the brother of one of the missing men contacted authorities late Monday. Due to extreme weather conditions on Monday, which made visibility nearly impossible, rescue efforts didn’t begin until Tuesday morning.
Rescuers were able to communicate with some of the men through text messages which, according to the sheriff’s office, indicated the men were in dire need of help.
One message received Tuesday morning indicated two of the men ” Morris and Melloni ” were still together and could hear snowmobiles in the area.
Authorities said the discovery of the survivors was the result of the text messages they received, an abandoned snowmobile they found, and the riding history of one of the snowmobilers.
According to authorities, weather conditions and avalanche danger in the area remained extreme, and the best way to evacuate the men from the area was by helicopter. Temperatures were well below freezing Monday night, with winds nearing 50 mph in the area.
Tuesday night an additional 30 to 35 rescuers joined the effort, relieving those who spent the entire day searching the area. Aid from surrounding counties was also summoned.
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There is a lot of pent up energy among hikers and bikers to get into the high country, but snow fields, avalanche debris and high stream crossings are presenting challenges later than usual. Forest rangers with the Aspen-Sopris District provide trail condition reports that are updated each week so hikers and backpackers aren’t caught unaware.