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Search and Rescue in Spanish Peaks

Gallatin County Search and Rescue volunteers responded to a call Tuesday night for a father and son overdue from a hike in the Spanish Peaks area south of Bozeman. The pair was found alive, but suffered severe frostbite and hypothermia in the ordeal.

Searchers rescued a Utah man and his 12-year-old son from the Spanish Peaks south of Bozeman, where they got separated while hiking in subzero temperatures Tuesday.

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said the pair began hiking around 1 p.m. Tuesday afternoon in the Spanish Peaks area, which is just north of Big Sky. 

It's unclear where they were hiking to, Gootkin said. They weren’t dressed for the near-blizzard conditions and below-zero temperatures, he said.

“They shouldn’t have been out there to begin with, with the conditions the way they were,” he said, adding that they were lucky to be alive.

Around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office received a call from a woman in Utah saying her husband and son hadn't yet returned from their hiking trip in the Spanish Peaks area. She didn’t know specifically where they had gone hiking.

It's unclear whether the father and son were vacationing in the Bozeman area. 

Responding to the call, Gallatin County Search and Rescue Commander Captain Jason Jarrett found an abandoned car around 8 p.m., 5 miles from U.S. Highway 191 on Spanish Creek Road. Jarrett called search and rescue, who responded quickly to the scene.

Two hours later, 20 volunteers on skis and snowmobiles searching the area found the boy hypothermic and confused. They found him between the main road and the Spanish Creek Cabin, which is 3.5 miles from the road and gated off in the winter to prevent vehicle access, according to a press release.

Rescuers took him to an ambulance waiting at the highway, which then took him to Bozeman Deaconess Hospital. After warming up, the boy gave information that helped searchers find his father.

The boy said he lost his dad because he was able to walk faster on the snow. He said he kept walking in the general direction of their car when he became disoriented.

Rescuers were able to narrow down search areas for the father using landmarks provided by the boy and a Geographic Information System.

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At 1:15 a.m. Wednesday, rescuers on skis found the boy's father near the Pioneer Falls Trail, a few miles from the cabin, conscious but hypothermic. Rescuers used a toboggan to take him to the cabin, and then a snowmobile rescue sled took him to a waiting ambulance. Later the son and father were flown to the University of Utah Burn Center to treat frostbite on their feet.

The Search and Rescue teams in the area have stayed busy this season. January alone saw 16 searches and rescues, Jarrett said — though that number isn't unusual for the outdoorsy area, he said.

Earlier, while responding to the initial search and rescue call just before 9 p.m. Tuesday, one volunteer was involved in a hit-and-run on Tamarack Street in Bozeman, Jarrett said. The volunteer was hit on his way to the rescue by a late-1990s or early-2000s white Chevy pickup that may have run a stop sign. The Chevy has considerable front-end damage and lost its front grille before speeding off, according to a Facebook post by the Bozeman police. 

The volunteer was not injured, Jarrett said. Bozeman police are asking anyone with information on the pickup to contact Officer Spencer Jenkins in reference to case #19-00616.

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