Two Routt County Search and Rescue members and their dogs were called to Albany County, Wyo., on Tuesday night to help search for a missing snowmobiler. Unfortunately, the man was found dead just as the dog teams were launching their search.
Scott Havener and his dog, Duke, and Sandy Witte and her dog, Schwar, traveled the 160 miles to Albany County early Wednesday morning to help track down a Laramie, Wyo., man who had been missing for five days.
Just as the crew was getting ready to snowmobile out to the site, word came that a foot-crew had found the victim, Havener said.
Michael Levi Heinrich, 33, had been missing since Christmas Day. Family members said he failed to return from a ride in the Snow Ridge Mountains, according to the Albany County Sheriff's Office. The family notified the sheriff's office Friday, and a search began early Saturday morning. Searchers battled high winds, limited visibility and snowfall, the sheriff's office said.
On Tuesday afternoon, the man's snowmobile was found, along with a discarded boot liner and shoeprints in the snow.
Albany County Sheriff Jim Pond said he put out a call to Search and Rescue Dogs of Colorado. The Routt County dogs were the only teams available at the time, and they were the closest.
Havener said dog teams were called to the area where the snowmobile was found, which limited the search area to just 4 miles. Four dog teams were used in the search, including a team from Laramie.
Aircraft also were used to search for the man, but high winds limited their time in the air.
After being called Tuesday night, the Routt County team made the drive to Albany County, had gear ready to go and was just about to mount snowmobiles when news arrived the man had been found.
The man's shoeprints led to his body, which was found about a mile southwest of a snowmobile parking area on a highway above Centennial, Wyo., the Albany sheriff's office reported.
Investigators think Heinrich drove his snowmobile into a creek and was unable to free it. He then attempted to walk back to the parking area. He is believed to have died from hypothermia, the sheriff's office reported.
Evidence indicated Heinrich became soaked from the creek while trying to free the snowmobile. That, combined with exposure to cold temperatures, wind and exhaustion, accelerated the hypothermia.
But Duke did go on another mission, Havener said. For practice, Havener had the dog track a woman who was snowshoeing in the area.
Tracking through the snow can be easier than other conditions, Havener said, because it leaves just one scent as opposed to the many that can be found on the ground.
The call was the first time that Duke, who was certified this summer, was used outside of the state. The team previously has been called to the Front Range and has conducted a search in Craig.
Duke, a yellow Lab, is one of four trail dogs certified by Search and Rescue.
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