Missing snowmobilers found near Continental Divide | SteamboatToday.com

Missing snowmobilers found near Continental Divide

Matt Gowen/Steamboat Today

— It was a long, cold ride for Steve Bogacz and Darin English.

And it ended shortly before 11:30 a.m. yesterday when routt County Search and Rescue found the snowmobilers, soaked and fatigued, near Summit Lake and Buffalo Pass.

"It was a crazy night," English, of Steamboat Springs, said after search and rescue workers led the snowmobilers down off the Continental Divide.

Bogacz and English, both 26, were reported missing around 3 a.m. by Bogacz's girlfriend, Trista Salzar. Bogacz, a Denver resident, was visiting English for the memorial day weekend.

The two set out Tuesday aboard their Yamaha snowmobiles to enjoy the late season snow cover. They started from the Dumont parking lot and hoped to stay close to Rabbit Ears Pass.

As darkness drew nearer and snow began to fall, however, they realized they were lost and in trouble.

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"We had no idea where we were," Bogacz said. "Then we got in a spot where we couldn't get out."

Without food or water, the pair could only find a place to rest and gather wood to build a fire. Using a lighter, an empty aluminum can, a handkerchief and gas from the snowmobile, the friends set up a makeshift camp.

"We didn't have anything," Bogacz said. "We weren't prepared for this."

But after hours of darkness passed and the fire began to sink deeper into the snow pack, they were prepared for the worst.

"We didn't think we were out here long enough for anyone to know," English said. "I told Steve we just need to fend for ourselves and get out of here.."

Routt County Search and Rescue received the initial page from the sheriff's office shortly after Salzar reported English and Bogacz missing. But the volunteer unit could not begin looking until morning, and mobilized around 6:30. Even after the sun lit the way, the deep, slushy snow made the search difficult.

"These snow conditions stink," incident commander Scott Havener said during the search. " (The rescue teams) are sinking four to five inches, and that's on packed trails; off trails it's worse than that."

Initially, three snowmobile teams were dispatched. Rain and snow had covered most of the tracks, adding complications to the search. The helicopter team, which was the first to spot the two, had to wait until early morning fog had burned off. Low visibility, especially near power lines, restricted flight until after 11 a.m.

"We flew around for an hour before it lifted," incident commander John Witte said. "When we saw them, they were jumping up and down."

The rescue signal came back to the big blue school bus, search and rescue's mobile headquarters, at 11:24 a.m. The subjects had been found and they were :tired, but OK."

The helicopter had to lead rescue team one, headed by Jim Vail, across the Divide to theur location. The team then managed to take them out of the forest by snowmobile.

"That was the coldest night I've ever been through," English said.

Still, they were able to avoid injury or hypothermia. Bogacz was taken to the hospital to have his eyes checked. Staring at the fire throughout the night exposed his eyes to a great deal of smoke.

To cut the risk of receiving another search and rescue call, Witte warned hikers, snowmobilers and cross country skiers to steer clear of areas that still have a concentration of snow.

"While we were up in the air, we saw a small avalanche on every single hillside," Witte said. "It's definitely dangerous up there.."

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