Tip Top Search and Rescue busy with missions this summer

SUBLETTE COUNTY, WYO – Like their neighbors to the north in Teton County, Tip Top Search and Rescue has been busy in the Wind River Mountains the past few weeks assisting hikers and climbers. It’s been that kind of summer it seems for all first responders of the backcountry.

Tip Top has responded to more than a few calls of outdoor enthusiasts affected by altitude sickness and needing assistance out of the mountains to seek medical attention. As a reminder, the Sublette County rescue team says those considering trekking into the high country should take extra time to acclimate if coming from lower altitudes, hydrate well, rest as needed during the trip, and be alert to the signs and symptoms of altitude sickness.

Underwater sonar scanning

Tip-Top SAR’s John Linn working with the ROV. (Courtesy TTSAR)

Tip Top SAR has also been helping neighboring counties with specialty equipment and the expertise of specially-trained members. Tip Top has side-scan sonar equipment that uses sonar technology to provide the trained user with visual images during underwater searches.

A ‘towfish’ is lowered into the water and the sonar sends out signals that reflect off objects underwater and creates visible shadows that our team uses to determine if further investigation is needed. Once enough plausible clues are gathered, a remote-operated vehicle (ROV) with a live camera, a grasping claw device, and thrusters to allow the operator to move it around can be employed. The live-feed is then analyzed on the deck of the boat via computer.

Tip Top SAR’s underwater team is led by John Linn who has been a member since 1984. Linn has traveled the country learning about side-scan technology and teaching his fellow SAR members. He has also spent the past few decades helping locate missing people in the Rocky Mountain West.

Recent water missions

On July 26-28, Tip Top SAR was requested to assist Wasatch County Utah SAR with the search for two missing fishermen in Strawberry Reservoir. John Linn and Gary Wilson worked with several other SAR units to locate both drowned fishermen with our sonar device. The ROV enabled dive teams to successfully retrieve the victims.

Tip Top SAR is also currently helping South Lincoln County SAR with a search for a missing man who fell out of a canoe on Lake Alice on August 12. Not only is Linn joined by fellow Tip Top members Thom Rinker, Bruce Bartley, and Sublette County Sheriff KC Lehr, but Lincoln SAR members have been helping get the necessary equipment into the lake that is in a remote area inaccessible by motor vehicle.

Sublette County’s leased Air Resources helicopter and pilot, Jason Legge, used a long-line to sling all necessary equipment to the water’s edge Thursday, August 15. The team is currently attempting to rig the equipment onto a small boat to begin the search for the canoeist despite fierce winds that have plagued our county for the past week.

Recent mountain missions

On August 10, Fremont County Sheriff’s Office requested assistance with an injured climber on Pingora Peak, Cirque of Towers, in the Wind River Range. The initial request was for use of the leased Air Resources helicopter and helicopter manager to assist flying Fremont’s High Angle team members into the Cirque so they could help the injured. The report was the climber had fallen on Pingora at about 11,800 feet.

Tip-Top SAR successfully short-hauled an injured 67-year-old climber from Pingora Peak. (Lesta Erickson)

High winds grounded any air rescue activity from both the Fremont County side as well as the Sublette County side of the Wind River Mountains. Sublette County’s short-haul team was placed on stand-by in case a window of opportunity to assist opened up. This team is trained and specializing in rescue using Sublette County and Tip Top’s helicopter is stationed about 12 minutes away from the Cirque of Towers if conditions cooperate.

When weather cooperated, Tip Top SAR members Milford Lockwood, Cody Wilson, and Lesta Erickson, under the care of pilot Jason Legge, were then able to successfully to locate, package, and fly the injured 67-year-old climber off the mountain ledge. The climber was lowered to the valley floor near Lonesome Lake and due to the extent of his injuries, the injured climber was immobilized in a vacuum mattress splint and prepared for transfer of care.

On the return flight to the Cirque to retrieve equipment and remaining TTSAR members left behind, the SAR team learned of another climber that had fallen in the same area and had succumbed to his injuries. Tip Top SAR members attempted for two days to enter the Cirque safely, but dangerous winds swirling inside the Cirque prevented the team from accessing Pingora Peak and retrieving the body of the climber.

Fremont County authorities were eventually able to hike into the area and bring the climber to the care of the Fremont County Coroner.

The lengthy time needed to accomplish these extensive missions are great reminders of the sacrifice the volunteer members make to help when the need arises. It is not only the dedication of the members, but also their employers and families that allow emergency responders to drop and run when they are needed.

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