12 rescued from mountain top blizzard thanks to extreme St. Bernard called a Hagglunds

SWEETWATER COUNTY, Wyo. — Authorities refer to it as a Hagglunds M937A1 Small Unit Support Vehicle (SUSV). For those rescued from blizzard conditions last Friday by Sweetwater County Sheriff’s deputies, well, they might simply call it a godsend.

It was the day after Thanksgiving—about 7 p.m. Friday, November 29 when the call came in. Four different vehicles were stranded atop White Mountain in a virtual whiteout.

Sheriff’s deputies were quickly able to figure out where the people were. They pinpointed the location to White Mountain Road (CR# 53), approximately nine miles south from the intersection of Fourteen Mile Road (CR# 14).

Sustained wind speeds were estimated at 60 to 70 mph, gusting as high as 80 mph. The vehicles were stuck in the snow off the main roadway near the edge of the mountain. The reporting party of 12 said that the winds were so vicious their vehicles were being pushed and “sliding down the mountain.”

Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office deputies initiated a search and rescue operation. They established a staging area near Fourteen-Mile Hill, north of Rock Springs. It was soon evident the road was impassible with snowdrifts measuring 3-feet high in some places. It was about 8:45 p.m. when search and rescue called in the big guns—a modern-day Saint Bernard known as the Hagglunds M937A1.

Driving the SUSV, rescuers cut their own trail with the tracked vehicle. Frigid temperatures along with the winds and blowing snow limited visibility to less than 20 feet, forcing the crew to rely on real-time GPS mapping technology to navigate their route.

It was slow going but finally the rescuers located the stranded party and their vehicles, all within a half-mile of one another. At approximately 1:15 a.m. Saturday morning, rescuers returned to the staging area in one trip with a total of 12 people extracted to safety from their stranded vehicles atop the mountain.

The Sheriff’s Office acquired the Hagglunds in August of 2019 upon approval from the Sweetwater County Board of County Commissioners as part of a 1033 program, which transfers excess military equipment to local agencies.

“While we’d of course prefer everyone to stay safe and stay home in inclement weather conditions like those we experienced over Thanksgiving weekend, the Hagglunds is an incredible tool, we’re fortunate to have it and make it available to the community, and it’s a piece of equipment that was critical to the success of this rescue mission,” said Field Services Lieutenant Joe Tomich.

Originally developed for the Swedish military, the vehicle features articulated steering, an independent four-track drive with reinforced rubber tracks, a servo-assisted steering gear with a turning radius of less than 27 feet and a low ground pressure equivalent to less than half of that exerted by a human foot. It can climb slopes 60 percent or steeper, and is also fully amphibious with a speed in water of up to 3 mph. It has a load capacity of over two tons, and seats 17 passengers.

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