Flight for Life assists in search and rescue missions

By Clayton Chaney
Staff Writer

Last Sunday, Nov. 8, around 8:20 a.m., Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office’s Emergency Operations received a call about a father and son hunting party who were stranded at a landmark called Rocky Basin. 

The landmark is about 6.5 miles from the East Creek Trailhead off of County Road 631 in southern Hinsdale County.

In an interview, Director of Emergency Operations Mike Le Roux explained that Archuleta County has an agreement with Hinsdale County which allows them to conduct search and rescue missions in this area. 

The father and son headed out on the trail on Friday, Nov. 6. They parked their car at the East Creek Trailhead and hiked to the Rocky Basin, where they set up camp. According to Le Roux, the party was due out on Sunday afternoon, but with the harsh weather the area received Saturday night, the party decided they needed to head out as soon as possible. 

According to Le Roux, the father was unable to hike out due to fatigue and the weather conditions. Once the emergency call was received, Le Roux contacted Flight for Life to see if it would be able to fly to the party’s location. 

He explained that the crews would have to wait for a break in the weather, which came around 11 a.m.

Le Roux and another Archuleta County search and rescue volunteer, Dustin English, began driving up County Road 631 in an attempt to coordinate a safe landing zone for the Flight for Life helicopter. They were only able to make it about two-thirds of the way up to the trailhead when they decided it was unsafe to keep going with over half a foot of snow on the road, Le Roux explained.

At that point, Flight for Life was in the air and en route to the party’s location. According to Le Roux, Flight for Life was able to land at Rocky Basin and fly the father and son out one at a time. Le Roux noted that the helicopter crews only had about 2 miles of visibility in the air, but the crews felt comfortable flying in the area as they have used Rocky Basin as a landing site for previous missions.

Meanwhile, Le Roux and English were on standby near Sportsman’s Campground when another call came in about a truck with a trailer trapped by fallen trees farther up on County Road 631, in the same area as the father’s and son’s vehicle. 

According to Le Roux, there were eight trees blocking the road that varied in size from 8 inches in diameter up to 25 inches in diameter. 

Le Roux explained that personnel were in the area earlier that morning clearing trees, but decided to stop work as road conditions got worse the farther up they went. 

The Forest Service was contacted and directed toward the area, but they were responding from Jackson Mountain and depending on road and weather conditions, they were up to two hours away from being able to arrive at the site to clear the fallen trees. 

The Flight for Life crew ended up taking Le Roux and English, with a chain saw, up to clear the road blockage. 

According to Le Roux, both parties were able to make it out safely and the father and son arrived back in Pagosa Springs around 6 p.m. Sunday afternoon. 

He mentioned that there were many other groups camping and hunting along County Road 631, but no other calls had been received as of Monday, Nov. 9.

“It was a great multiagency response,” Le Roux said. “The relationship we have with [Flight for Life] and the service they provide is phenomenal for the region. Certainly they have provided an extreme benefit to our backcountry response. Under the circumstances yesterday, they had the ability to make or break the mission and they made it.” 

Le Roux also added that if you are ever in an emergency situation to, “Call early, call often,” as “it is way easier for your rescue to get to you in daylight hours.” 

This story was posted on November 17, 2020.