Custer County Search and Rescue Honored by Air Force Academy – Wet Mountain Tribune

The Custer County Search and Rescue Volunteers (CCSAR) were honored last week at the U.S. Air Force Academy. On Thursday, October 6, at the Academy’s Winter Safety Expo, approximately 3,500 of the 4,000 registered cadets were on hand for a noon presentation to thank and formally recognize the members of the CSAR for the May 13 rescue of four Air Force Academy cadets.

CCSAR during the May 13 rescue

Brigadier General Paul D. Moga, Commanding Officer of Cadets, was on hand to officially recognize the rescue efforts of the members of the CSAR, along with Major Nicholas Conover, Commanding Officer of Cadets at the time of the rescue, and Jeff Sparhawk, Executive Director of the Colorado Search and Rescue Association.

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The CSAR report on the May incident describes the course of the rescue. Four cadets had been on 96-hour leave after their final spring exams.
“One of the four young men fell about 200 feet from a ridge near Spread Eagle Peak in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness. Three other members of the group were unable to reach him but could see that he was injured and contacted 911. CCSAR worked with REACH Air Medical Services and the Colorado Army National Guard (COARNG), which were both activated to reach the injured man.

“Once on the ground, two members of the Reach team medical staff and three members of CCSAR were able to stabilize the man until members of the Colorado Hoist Rescue Team (CHRT) arrived on the scene. . Subject was then transported by a COARNG UH-60 with CHRT lift technicians from the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group and Vail Mountain Rescue to Custer SAR Base for transfer to the Reach aircraft and transported to a trauma center in level 1 in Colorado Springs. While the urgent rescue and lifting operation was underway, a second operation to locate and extract the other three cadets had also begun, as they were off the road and descending into unfamiliar terrain in the dark. Two ground crews began walking towards the group and, with coordination from the operations team, used SMS locators, a mapping feature of SAR Topo, to track their location and movements and eventually reach them. The cadets were then able to go hiking with the CCSAR teams. Incident response demonstrated the complexity of SAR operations, including the mobilization of resources and the coordination of multiple air and ground assets. Regular updates from their commander were also coordinated, as well as working with a state coordinator from the Colorado Search and Rescue Association. Survival efforts were also an essential part of the rescue.

A number of Custer County Search and Rescue (CCSAR) volunteers traveled to the Air Force Academy last week for the Winter Safety Expo. The event also provided an opportunity to speak one-on-one with cadets visiting their exhibit and seeking outdoor advice. CCSAR’s key message, like that of the Colorado Search and Rescue Association and other backcountry SAR teams across the state, is safety. “As we like to point out,” says Cindy Howard of CCSAR, “everything can change in an instant.”

The May rescue incident was not the first time CSAR has been involved in response to assisting active military personnel. In 2019, CCSAR took command of a multi-day search and ultimate recovery of Lt. Col. Dan Wallick, who was stationed at Schriever Air Force Base in East Colorado Springs. During this incident, teams from Custer, Saguache, Douglas, and Fremont counties searched for Wallick, as well as state and federal aviation assets.

In low-key CCSAR volunteer fashion, the organization simply stated, “Thursday’s recognition by the AFA cadets and their command staff was met with appreciation by the CCSAR team. Also, learning that their former classmate had recently been released from a VA facility and is now continuing his recovery at home, with family and friends, really warmed our hearts. Members of the CCSAR team are among those families, friends and classmates who are grateful that, against all odds, this young man is alive today. We wanted to share our gratitude with members of our community and thank each of you who support our mission, through your generous contributions during the Wet Mountain Valley Community Foundation’s annual spiritual campaign.

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An additional footnote provided startling information that in 2021, 2,442 professional backcountry search and rescue volunteers responded to 2,735 incidents in the Colorado backcountry. While CCSAR saw only 21 incidents last year, the 32 local volunteers signed up at the time had spent 8,467 hours on administration, safety education, training and missions while throughout the year.

Custer County is privileged and honored to have such a team available 24/7 to serve the distressed and needy in the wild, not only here, but in adjacent and even remote counties. . La Tribune adds its gratitude to the recognition of the Air Force Academy: thank you for being there for us and for our visitors.

– WA Ewing

Brandon D. James