Alert snowplow driver aids search

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— Two Hayden residents and a Lakewood man were rescued by Routt County Search and Rescue on Tuesday after spending Monday night in California Park.

But the rescue likely would not have been possible without the help of alert Routt County Road and Bridge Department snowplow operator Tom Kostur.

Search and Rescue incident commander Russ Sanford said the three-person hunting party was reported missing Monday evening by one of the men's wives. However, because the two men and a 12-year-old boy had not given specific information about where there were heading, law enforcement officers had little information to work with, Sanford said.

In fact, the search area included much of Northwest Colorado because the men's hunting licenses were valid for four game management units that encompass much of the region. The men were legally permitted to hunt on private land, Sanford said.

After receiving the initial Monday night call, Routt County Sheriff's Office personnel put out a BOLO - or "Be on the lookout" - page for the missing hunters and their Toyota SUV. After hearing the page, Kostur, a Hayden resident, decided to expand his route a little farther north on Routt County Road 80. He soon noticed a set of tire tracks headed up CR 80 into the California Park area due north of Hayden.

Kostur reported the tracks, and the tip eventually reached Search and Rescue. Although it wasn't much to go on, particularly considering the size of the potential search area, Sanford said he and others agreed to send out a team of searchers on snowmobiles.

"It was kind of a needle-in-a-haystack search," Sanford said.

By midday Tuesday, Sanford's six-person search party located the vehicle and its occupants. The men were OK, but the story may not have ended as well had they been stranded another night, Sanford said. One of the men has several ongoing medical issues and didn't have any medication with him. The men had cell phones, but there is no reception in that area. As much as two feet of snow had fallen in the area by the time searchers arrived, Sanford said.

"These guys committed the biggest sin of all - not letting people know where they were going," Sanford said.

Kostur said he was just doing his job.

"All of us in the county kind of work together," he said. "They told us to keep an eye out, so I thought I'd take a peek.

"It sure turned out good."

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