Tag Archives: Saguache County Search and Rescue

Search Mission Concluded with Fatality

Yesterday multiple emergency services agencies including the Saguache County Search and Rescue team concluded a mission that ended in a fatality on Challenger Point, located in neighboring Custer County.

On July 28 the body of 41-year-old Lt. Colonel USAF Dan Wallick was recovered from Challenger Point, a popular summit for hikers looking to take on a “14er.” The initial call came in on the evening of Wednesday, July 24, when Saguache County received a 911 call for an overdue hiker in the Kit Carson Peak/Challenger Point area.  The hiker had intended to summit both peaks and was reported overdue by family members.  

By dawn’s first light at 0600 on Thursday, July 25, Custer County officials took the protocol lead in the search and rescue mission, since the incident was technically in their county. Search and Rescue teams were fielded, covering the major trail systems and routes leading up to Kit Carson Peak and Challenger Point, two of Colorado’s 14ers.

The day started out for the seasoned hiker at the Willow Creek trail trailhead by Crestone which is located in Saguache County. Wallick had headed first to Challenger Point where he summited this 14,087-foot fourteener at 11a.m. Then he headed towards neighboring Kit Carson, reaching its peak at a few minutes past noon. That was the last communication indicated from family reports, adding: “His descent was back towards Challenger, but it is not known what he did from the saddle on the way down.”

That was Wednesday and when nightfall came and there was no additional communication from the Air Force Colonel, family members made the call to alert authorities.

Eventually, air support was called in and on Saturday, July, 27 the victim’s body was located by a Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control helicopter. However, due to the difficult terrain and deteriorating weather conditions, the search teams were told to stand down and re-inserted on yesterday, Sunday, July 28 to access and recover Wallick’s body.

Search and rescue mission ends with fatality.
Lt. Colonel USAF Dan Wallick

It’s always a group effort during these SAR missions, and the following organizations were also there for the assist: Saguache County Search and Rescue, Baca Grande Volunteer Fire Department, Custer County Search and Rescue (CCSAR), Western Mountain Rescue Team, Fremont Search and Rescue, Douglas County Search and Rescue, Alpine Rescue Team, US Forest Service, Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC), Colorado Search and Rescue (CSAR), leadership from his assigned command, as well as aerial assets from Flight for Life, Buckley Air Force Base Colorado Army National Guard (COANG), and Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (CO DFPC) aircraft.

Latest News – March 15

Air Medical Serves Saguache County Too!

As the calendar heads into the last week of winter, it will feel like spring has already arrived. As the seasons transition, people want to get outside, it’s time to shake off that cabin fever. However, here’s a cautionary tale for those wanting to travel into the back country. This rescue story submitted by Cara Reano, with with AirMedCare Network reiterates the importance of being prepared and planning ahead.

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The REACH Air Medical Services helicopter gets ready to leave the Colorado Central Regional Airport in Buna Vista Colorado. Ohoto: REACH Air Medical Services

The story is also worthy of a note of thanks to these brave emergency service personnel who also serve Saguache County and assit when necessary the Saguache County Search and Rescue Team. 

Backcountry Rescue Ends Well Due to Air Medics

When Kent Townsend set out to do the first training of the year with his daughter’s high school mountain bike team, he knew he would come home tired, but never did he expect he might not come home at all.

“We were riding the Monarch Crest Trail which goes about 12,000 feet across the continental divide,” said Kent.

This Colorado trail is known for its challenging terrain. It is a single-track trail and riders go one behind another through dense tree lines and open meadows.

The ride was going well and everyone was enjoying the challenge of the trail. However, as the group began a particularly steep descent, the rider in front of Kent swerved slightly, clipping a log, sending a limb onto the trail. With nowhere to go and no time to slow down, Kent slammed into the limb, piercing his groin. Thrown over the handlebars, he went crashing down an embankment and into a nearby creek. The force from the fall fractured his pelvis and his sacrum.

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One bad backcountry bike crash is all it takes to start the clock ticking between life and death. Be prepared, tell people where you are going and when you will be back.

“As I was laying in the creek, I kept thinking I was going to die out there,” said Kent. “We were so remote and I couldn’t move out of the water. The limb was about 7 inches deep into my groin.”

After sending one rider for help, the others took to caring for Kent. They removed the limb from his groin and applied pressure to slow the bleeding. Once he was stabilized, they began formulating a plan to get him off the mountain. It was decided they would try to carry him down the trail where they would hopefully be met by search and rescue.

Using a makeshift stretcher that one of the chaperons had constructed from a hammock he had in his car, the group started the seven-mile trek out.

“That trail is incredibly steep and it’s only about eight inches wide,” said Kent. “I’m not a small guy either, so there was NO way they could move me up that trail – they HAD to go down.”

As the group struggled their way down the trail, a call for help was going out to the Saguache search and rescue teams and to REACH 29 in Buena Vista.

As the search parties were making contact with Kent, REACH 29 was circling the scene from above. In the aircraft that day, was Pilot Travis Durbin, Flight Nurse Thomas Salazar, and Flight Paramedic Travis Koppenhafer.

Shortly after touching down at the trailhead, the crew spotted a motorcyclist coming down the trail.

“We flagged this guy on a dirt bike down, gave him a radio and an occlusive dressing, and sent him riding up the trail looking for everyone,” Travis K. said. “He radioed when he located them and we were able to have Thomas get an initial assessment of Kent’s condition and the exact mileage to where everyone was.”


Now knowing they were facing a four-mile hike to reach their patient, Travis and Thomas made sure to do a full safety assessment before departing the aircraft.

“In Colorado, the weather is so dynamic, you never know what you are going to get,” said Thomas. “In this scenario, it was important for us to assess how prepared we were to make the hike. We checked the

weather, we discussed how we were feeling, and of course we made sure we were prepared to handle the situation medically because we needed to be on our game.”

After making sure they were prepared for the hike, Travis and Thomas gathered the response bag and a stretcher and started up the trail. When they made contact with the group, everyone was near exhaustion. Because they didn’t have all of their equipment with them, Travis and Thomas had to rely on their clinical skills to assess whether Kent was bleeding internally.

“We were really relying on those clinical indicators to tell us how critical he was. We checked his heart rate, observed his skin color, and made sure he was alert and aware of his surroundings,” said Thomas. “In these types of situations, you are always operating under the assumption of worst case scenario until you are able to assess the patient yourself.”

After administering some pain medicine to Kent, the crew moved him from the hammock to the stretcher they had brought with them. Ready to face the daunting four miles out to the aircraft, the group began taking turns wheeling the stretcher down the trail.

“Kent’s friends truly were the heroes of the day,” said Travis K. “Without them manning the litter, it would have taken Thomas and I another hour to get him out of there.”

Once the group arrived, Travis and Thomas loaded Kent into the aircraft and lifted off for Memorial Hospital North in Colorado Springs. Shortly after lift-off, Kent was finally able to take a sigh of relief.

“When we got him in the helicopter, he just took a big sigh and he got a little teary eyed and said ‘I really thought this was how I was going to go’,” said Thomas. “He was incredibly lucky. The limb was just inches above his femoral artery and inches below his spleen.”

From that point on, Kent’s good fortune kept up. While deep and susceptible to infection, Kent’s wound didn’t require surgery; instead, he was given a heavy dose of antibiotics and after three days in the hospital, he was cleared to go home. Then, Kent learned that the cost of his transport was completely covered through his family’s AirMedCare Network membership. Finally, despite the traumatic events of their ride that day, the training paid off for Kent’s daughter Madelyn. In her first race of the season, she took first place by 6 minutes in a statewide competition.

For information on becoming an AirMedCare Network member, please contact Membership Manager Cara Reano @ (719)239-0578 or email cara.reano@airmedcarenetwork.com. Join today at www.amcnrep.com.