Crook County Court OKs new rescue snowmobile

Sheriff’s Office expresses need for sled after recent rescue in Ochocos

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: December 08. 2006 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – The morning after a camper had to be airlifted from the Ochoco National Forest following a sledding accident, the Crook County Court authorized the Crook County Sheriff’s Office to solicit bids for a snowmobile and rescue sled.

The incident showed that the department needs more specialized equipment for winter rescues, Sheriff’s Office personnel said at the county court meeting Wednesday morning.

A staff member and a student from Mount Bachelor Academy were sledding Tuesday night on Lookout Mountain when they collided with a tree, said Kelli Hoffman, director of admissions at Mount Bachelor Academy. The sledders were part of a two-night camping trip of about three staff members and seven students from the academy.

Hoffman and the Sheriff’s Office did not release the names of either person involved in the accident.

Hoffman said the staff member, a woman in her late 20s, suffered a fractured vertebra and was taken by helicopter to St. Charles Medical Center-Bend. The student bruised her hip but did not leave the group, which was scheduled to return home Wednesday.

“She doesn’t need surgery or anything like that, she’s fine, just a little bruised and a little cracked vertebra,” Hoffman said. She added that the woman was released from the hospital at about 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

The campers, who had snowshoed to their campsite, were several miles from the nearest road when the accident occurred, Undersheriff Jim Hensley said. After a member of the group dialed 911 at about 5 p.m. Tuesday, personnel from Crook County Fire and Rescue, the U.S. Forest Service and the Sheriff’s Office were dispatched. The 911 operators also notified Air Life, which sent a helicopter to the scene.

“They were in a rural area in a forest with deep snow and Air Life arrived on scene, naturally before everyone else could because of the distance and everything, and Air Life was able to land near the patient,” Hensley said.

Hensley said he does not think rescuers from the Sheriff’s Office would have arrived earlier than Air Life in this case, but the incident demonstrated the need for better equipment.

“Our search and rescue people train for missions like this, but one of the things were were lacking is this equipment, and it’s great that the County Court recognizes that and it’s going to give us the equipment,” he said.

Crook County Court Judge Scott Cooper said that an Air Life helicopter sometimes can’t land close enough to the scene of an accident because of the tree line or wind conditions.

“We can’t always count on the Air Life helicopter being able to land,” Cooper said. “That’s probably the preferred alternative for a rescue, but in more remote areas we need to have alternate means of getting to injured people.”

Cooper estimated that the new snowmobile will cost about $16,000, and he added that he expects the purchase to be made by the end of the year. At the County Court meeting Wednesday, Sgt. Russ Wright said the Sheriff’s Office has two snowmobiles that are “hand-me-downs” from the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, but are not suitable for search and rescue operations.

At the meeting, Wright said the department is also in the process of buying four pairs of snowshoes.

Cooper said that people camping during the winter should notify the Sheriff’s Office of their plans.

“When we have large groups of people going into snow country, into remote, inaccessible areas, we would appreciate being warned in advance,” he said. “That’s supposed to happen, but for whatever reason that didn’t happen in this case.”

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