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Real call comes through
while Search & Rescue
practice avalanche training

Search & Rescue member Jim Weatherly (far right) provides instruction to other S&R
members in the technique of conducting an avalanche probe line to search for buried victims.


At Left: Search & Rescue member Ty Anders (right) and Search & Rescue Assistant Coordinator Missoula
County Sheriff's Deputy Mike Dominick prepare an avalanche victim for transport to medical
personnel at the staging area on Deer Creek. At right: Search & Rescue member Jinny Berdine provides
medical treatment to avalanche victim Lelan Anders.

(L-R) Search & Rescue member Gary Lewis, Missoula County
Sheriff's Deputy and S&R member Scott Newell and Search &
Rescue member Bart Peterson prepare to transport avalanche
victim Chris Mood.

by Patricia Swan Smith
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
February 25, 1999

With three avalanche victims completely buried and four others injured and waiting to be rescued, the mock avalanche exercise was under way when 911 dispatched the Search & Rescue at 9 a.m. on February 6th.

The Missoula County Sheriff's Search & Rescue (S&R), USFS, a Reserve Deputy, Fish & Game, Highway Patrol officer Shane Grimes, the Seeley Lake Driftriders snowmobile club, and a snowmobile club out of Lolo participated in the avalanche training staged at the Heliport on Deer Creek.

Mother Nature supplied snowfall which changed to blizzard conditions as the wind picked up and then of course part of the day was filled with blue sky and sunshine.

"We couldn't have picked a better day for a drill," Missoula County Sheriffs Deputy Bob Parcell said. "We had every kind of condition imaginable. It was great."

Approximately 40 people worked together to train in the mock avalanche rescue, which included training on transporting victims on sleds and trailers, probing for buried victims, the use of transceivers (also called beepers), and riding snowmobiles on a course designed to improve snowmobilers skills.

After the page from the 911 center, the S&R bus, rescuers and their snowmobiles arrived at the staging area. They had to hook up sleds and gather equipment before they took off on the 8.3 mile jaunt up the Lake Elsina Trail to rescue the victims.

After the rescuers arrived and began working on the victims, a real call came in. A 13-year-old male had hit a tree on Arcibald Loop, and within 15 minutes Search 7 Rescue members Dave Ball and Kurt Friede were on the scene, according to Missoula County Sheriffs Deputy Bob Parcell.

The boy was unconscious right after the collision, but did regain consciousness before he was brought out by S&R members and transported to Saint Patrick Hospital. When the real call was over, the S&R members returned to the drill.

By this time the S&R members remaining at the drill had transported three of the victims down to the bus where they would receive medical treatment and transport.

Two of the buried victims, each made out of a pair of coveralls stuffed with newspaper, were buried about 4 feet under. One dummy was for the probing exercise, and the other would be used for the transceiver drill.

S&R member Jim Weatherly provided the instruction in the technique of conduction an avalanche probe line to search for buried victims. After the instruction, the S&R members moved to the area where they were told the victim (dummy) might be buried. They found the victim and dug him out.

The other victim has a transceiver. The S&R members learned to use the transceiver signals to located the victim. Once the victim was located, they probed for a definite location and began digging.

The third buried victim, Reserve Deputy Peggy Westphal, was buried 2 feet under the snow, and she was supplied with an air tube. This victim was a drill for the avalanche dogs out of Missoula.

"The dogs went right to her," Deputy Parcell said. "It was impressive. Once the victim was located, we ran up the hill and started digging."

Game Warden Bill Koppen showed the group how to pack a survival kit which included everything from a beeper, probe and a shovel to food and fire-starting material.

Curt Friede who is also a S&R member, set up a 1.3 mile course so those members who are not experienced riders could get some hands-on experience. The course was designed to give the snowmobilers different snow conditions as well as practice at side-hilling, going up and down mountains and of course it was complete with bumps, Friede said.

"The course let them try their skills and help them understand how the snowmobile works," Friede said.

"The one thing that I learned out of this whole thing is you have to have the right equipment, but if you don't know how to use the equipment it won't do you a bit of good," he said. "The biggest thing is using the equipment over and over and over. If you get around somebody who can help you take advantage of it."

There are classes offered to teach snowmobilers how to use the equipment. If you are interested you may contact the University of Montana, the Forest Service or any of the ski resorts, according to Friede.

Friede owns Kurt's Polaris, and according to Parcell, Friede also provides the S&R crews with 4-wheelers, motorcycles or snow machines when they are needed. He also has complete avalanche kits available at the store. This kit includes a beeper, probe and shovel.

The Missoula S&R started in 1959. The initial group was in Missoula, and now there are three squads. One is in the Seeley-Swan area. All three squads participated in this drill.

The Seeley-Swan squad includes Deputy Bob Parcell, Deputy Scott Newell, Joe Anders, John Anders, Curt Friede, Hank Sommerdyke, Gerry Connell, Pat Caffrey, Randy Teague, Bart Peterson, Ty Anders, James Weatherly and Wade Herbert.

"I thought the whole day went really well," said USFS Federal Marshall Ron Ogden. "We had a real good turnout, and it was a great training opportunity. And the dogs were unbelievable."

"It was a great exercise, and then the real call in the middle of the mock really gave us a workout," Deputy Parcell said. "Everything went very well. I think we all learned a lot. The S&R would really like to thank everyone involved especially the Driftriders and our victims: Al Woodward, Peggy Westphal, Chris Mood, Leland Anders and Lindsay Newell."

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