TNSAR Search 08/02/2004

Lost snowmobiler at Stampede Reservoir

At 8PM Sunday TNSAR was called out on another search in generally the same area as the search the night before. The county had established an ICC (Incident Command Center) 20 miles north of Truckee on HW 89 near the Little Truckee Summit. We were looking for a 29 year old missing snowmobiler. He had been snowmobiling with two friends, who said he simply "disappeared". Upon discovering they were a twosome they looked all afternoon for their missing buddy and finally called the Sheriff, who in turn called Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue.

Scoop Remenih drove the team cat with Tony Bochene co-piloting and Larry Sevison took his cat with Dave Gleske co-piloting. In addition to us there were about 8 snowmobiles searching.

Larry and Scoop took the cats and tried to cut a ring around the "PLS" (Point Last Seen). The two cats made a five mile radius perimeter around the PLS. Difficult at times with steep slopes and fresh light powder. We were blending "Margaritas" several times. That's an expression to describe the point of transition from going up and forward to stopping and "blending" a white frothy hole down to earth. It can happen so fast you hardly have time to pull off the sticks and gas. Several snowmobile tracks "popped-out" of our perimeter but we felt none were our missing man. The hours wore on and on. No sign of him from anyone. At 3AM Larry's cat started to develop a steering problem and we made the run back to the "CP" (Command Post) with him.

Tony Bochene knew the area South of the search zone called Sagehen Creek and thought they should search there. It was 7 miles south and a real long shot of an idea. The missing sled would really have to have worked hard to get that far a field and elude our generous perimeter, but we simply couldn't think of anything better to do. The snowmobiles were buzzing around the PLS and chopping the area into ever smaller and smaller patches of snow. If someone is injured or worse and they don't lay track (move) that's about the only way to find them. Scoop and Tony loaded the cat on the trailer and took off for Sagehen Creek around 4AM.

A slight wind was blowing as they off-load the cat. This will be a far more difficult run as they will be cutting trail much of the way. A quick scramble across the highway and they disappeared into the forest. After about 30 minutes of grinding along they started an unavoidable slow rolling side hill traverse. If you ever get into real trouble in a cat 9 out of 10 times it's trying a side hill traverse. The rear end wants to spin around and trade places with the front of the machine. They were TOTALLY TUNED-IN to the slowly increasing side hill angle as it picked up one more degree of side slope after another. They got to a point where Tony thought they should maybe think about finding another route. Just a little farther Scoop thought it would level-off. They snaked the cat through several trees, again difficult on a traverse. They emerged through the last two trees on top of a very fresh snowmobile track. No big deal, there were hundreds of these tracks all over the place BUT this one was different. Squarely centered in the middle of the track was a boot print. A large boot print going downhill.

Twenty feet of tracks turned to twenty yards, turned to twenty minutes of chasing this track through the forest. Tony at one point said "If we go down this slope can we get back up it"? Scoop reassured him that he'd never met a slope a cat couldn't go up. They stopped, as was true throughout the night, every few minutes. They shut off everything, even the moaning, rotating yellow beacon on top of the cat and hollered "HELLO!". After 30 minutes of tracking this guy they got their answer, it was the victim "I'M HERE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CREEK!!!"

He sounded weak and confused. They dropped off the ridge line, stopping twice to make voice contact and adjust their angle of descent. They emerged from the forested slope to a wide open expanse. They very cautiously approached his position. There was a strong possibility they were on top of a gigantic asphalt parking lot OR the frozen Stampede Reservoir. Scoop sunk one cat several years ago and a clear image of breaking through the ice and slowly sinking was flashing through his head. They came within 200 feet of the snowmobiler and to the edge of a steep embankment down to a creek. Just then he let out a strange blood curdling scream. To their amazement he was not on the other side of the creek...he was in it and totally soaked head to toe. His arms were fully extended and stretched out in front of him reaching as if asking for help.

He started a stiff Frankenstein walk towards us, a freighting sight by any measure. It was single digits, maybe 5 or 6 degrees Fahrenheit. He would definitely freeze to death if not quickly dried and warmed. The wet snowmobiler, still grasping the ignition keys to his snowmobile (buried some 2 miles away), could barely move as they went in after him. They pulled him out of the water and up the embankment. They helped him back to the cat some 200' away. Once inside Tony helped him take off his wet icy clothes and got him into something dry. Concurrently Scoop radioed that they had him. A Sheriff radioed back that he would have a helicopter in route. The sheriff - "What's your Lat and Long"? They were already turned around and approaching "maximum velocity" (22 MPH), "What's the helicopters ETA" Scoop asked. Back came "Only 30 to 40 minutes". At that Scoop asked if they have an ambulance run up 89 and meet at the trailhead where they would find the parked cars and trailer.

They beat the Helicopter and ambulance to the highway by 10 minutes. Awaiting his arrival were several sheriff vehicles, the radio communications van and his mother. What a reunion! What an amazing stroke of luck. They found him some 15 minutes after he had fallen into the water. His pants were made of cotton and would have frozen solid in less than an hour.

Sheriff Dispatch Comm Van Truck Skiers Snow Cats Snowmobiles
Scoop Remenih
Tony Bochene
Larry Sevison
Dave Gleske
Shawn Kelly
Scott Baumgardner
Ray O'Brien