By Andi Bourne

Search and Rescue volunteers receive commendations


January 30, 2020

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Missoula County Sheriff T.J. McDermott and Undersheriff Rich Maricelli hold awards while Missoula County Sheriff Sergeant Bob Parcell reads the Commendation to Seeley-Swan Search and Rescue volunteers Ken Brochu, Jon Haufler, John Anders and Deputy Ryan Dunster for their assistance in rescuing five lost snowmobilers .

SEELEY LAKE – The Missoula County Sheriff's Office presented Sheriff Office Certificates of Commendation and Letters of Appreciation recognizing several Seeley-Swan Search and Rescue volunteers and citizens for their efforts during the rescue of five snowmobilers Dec. 15 and the recovery of two men buried in an avalanche Jan. 1 both in the Lake Dinah area.

"I just want to say thank you," said Missoula County Sheriff TJ McDermott. "We could not do our mission without you and without this community."

Sunday, Dec. 15, SSSAR was deployed to the area of Lake Dinah for five lost snowmobilers from Minnesota. One sunk his snowmobile in the lake and was very wet. Another injured his shoulder while assisting with removing the machine from the water. After this, all five snowmobilers realized they were disoriented and lost and had to call for help.

SSSAR volunteers John Anders, Jon Haufler, Ken Brochu, Gerry Connell and Missoula County Sheriff's Deputy Ryan Dunster were recognized for attempting to rescue the five lost snowmobilers and then staging at the Lake Elsina warming hut to provide back up, additional resources and act as a communication relay. Once the lost were brought to the warming hut, they assisted them on the trip back to the West Side Trailhead.

"Due to your effort backing up the ultimate rescue, the men were safely returned to the trailhead and possible tragedy was averted," said Sergeant Bob Parcell.

When the first team could not make it in due to blizzard conditions combined with five feet of new snow with no base, expert snowmobilers Dan Johnson, SSSAR volunteer, and Curtis Friede, citizen of Seeley Lake, deployed from the West Side Trailhead. They successfully located the stranded snowmobilers. They built a path and led the five out.

"The timing of your actions could not have been better since the men were in the process of having to spend a cold, miserable night in the mountains with no other chance of rescue in sight," said Parcell. "Due to your experience, expertise and efforts, the men were successfully rescued and possible tragedy was averted.

Kyle Huestis, SSSAR volunteer, and citizen volunteers Leland Bartlett, Scott Rhodes, Shane Kesterke, Isaac Kesterke, Mark Myre and Curtis Friede were recognized for being instrumental in the location and rescue of an avalanche survivor and the location and recovery of two bodies from an avalanche in the Lake Dinah area Jan. 1. They also helped locate and dig out the three buried snowmobiles and get them running so they could be ridden out.

"Your experience, expertise and determination greatly assisted in bringing the tragic incident to a close in a very short amount of time without further injury or loss of life," said Parcell while recognizing Huestis, the only person present at the ceremony.

Deputy Heath Hanson, Federal Officer Tyler Robinson, Captain Bill Burt and Sergeant Parcell all received Certificate of Commendations for their leadership during the Lake Dinah avalanche incident.

"Thank you to everyone. You guys are awesome first responders," said Robinson on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service.

Captain Burt appreciated all the information being conveyed back to him about the incident so he could provide details to the families.

"These families are extremely appreciative for what you did," said Captain Burt. "Because of the [rural] area we live in, nothing gets accomplished without the volunteers. It is just amazing to me how you people answer that pager and respond to the calls every time."

McDermott presented SSSAR Chief Tim Hoag with a Certificate of Appreciate for the Seeley-Swan Search and Rescue Unit for outstanding performance of duty during callouts in Missoula County most recently for the avalanche in the Lake Dinah area.

"The efforts of the Seeley-Swan Search and Rescue were instrumental in bringing this tragic incident to a close without further injury or loss of life," said McDermott.

"We enjoy and do this as volunteers," said Hoag. "There is no 'I' in teamwork. We couldn't do what we do without the support of the Sheriff's Office. Thank you everyone for being on Seeley-Swan Search and Rescue."

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

SSSAR Chief Tim Hoag accepts the recognition from Sheriff McDermott for the Seeley-Swan Search and Rescue Unit.


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