Busy weekend for Search & Rescue teams

by barbara anne greene

Search and Rescue teams were busy over the weekend with three separate incidents on the Big Horn Mountains.

The first involved a 12-year-old boy from Powell who got separated from his boy scout troop while hiking in the Black Mountain area. Benjamin Kellett was missing for 33 hours before he was found. Sheridan Search and Rescue was the lead agency on the search but did get back up from South Big Horn County Search and Rescue (SBHCSR).

The other agencies involved were the Sheridan County Sheriff’s office, U.S. Forest Service, Johnson County Search and Rescue, Wyoming National Guard and Wyoming State Forestry Division. There were also two K-9 units brought in — one from Cody, one from Douglas.

Kellett was found southeast of Black Mountain in the Wolf Creek drainage area. He was dressed in sweatpants and hoodie.

The second rescue involved a 20-year-old man from Illinois. He and his friends were hiking the loop around Paintrock Lakes. The last time the six hikers were in a group was at Tee Pee Flats. From there they started hiking out and got spread out from each other. Big Horn County Sheriff Ken Blackburn said that this happens quite often and that groups need to hike as fast as the slowest hiker in the group.

Blackburn said that Daniel Lindsey Paulson was the last hiker in the group and the most inexperienced. There is a portion of the trail that isn’t very well marked. The rest of the group went the correct way but Paulson did not. The rest of the group hiked all the way to Elk View Lodge before calling for help.

Because the Civil Air Patrol and Air Force had already been in the air searching for the 12-year-old, they were unable to start looking for Paulson until after they had the required hours of sleep and maintenance done on their crafts. Blackburn said Kellett was given priority because he had been missing longer and had no survival equipment.

Horse and foot patrols from SBHCSR spent 14 hours on the search and put on a lot of miles during the search. The hiker was eventually spotted under a tree thanks to a Civil Air Patrol fixed-wing which had Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR). They were able to direct the helicopter to the general area.

Paulson told rescuers that he had heard the plane but didn’t have time to build a fire to signal it before it was out of range. When he heard the helicopter, he built a fire which was able to direct the team right to his location.

Blackburn said that Paulson was actually out of the original search area by a few miles. He had walked a lot faster and further than anticipated. “If he had stayed put we would have had him sooner,” said Blackburn. He hopes that is a lesson others will pay attention to when they explore the wilderness.

The third rescue was led by North Big Horn County Search and Rescue. Derrick Lehman, 28, of Gillette, was preparing to take off near Medicine Wheel for a hang gliding adventure. According to Blackburn, Lehman was in the rest position when a gust of wind flipped him and the glider over. He was dragged backwards and sustained minor injuries. Search and Rescue was able to pack him to a waiting ambulance. He was transported to North Big Horn County Hospital.

“Working with these agencies and their planes and helicopters has been a real blessing. We’ve been on six rescue missions this year. Each one has ended successfully and quickly. I’m sure we have saved hundreds of man hours. “ Blackburn noted.

He had high praise for Civil Air, the Air Force, REACH and Saint Vincent’s air teams. “It has made a huge difference for the victims.”