FALLON - Naval Air Station Fallon's Search and Rescue team, the "Longhorns," rescued nine people and a dachshund from the Eastern Sierras near Bridgeport, Calif., Monday morning.
Lt. Jim Smith said the Longhorn crew was called at 8:45 a.m. to search for a group of people who took several trailers and all-terrain vehicles (ATV) into the mountains Wednesday and were due back Saturday.
Smith said during the weekend, 30 inches of snow fell, so they began searching for tracks in a Sikorsky SH-60/MH-60 Seahawk helicopter. Smith said the crew searched for about 45 minutes before spotting a large SOS and arrow carved in the snow.
The arrow pointed to the group's location in a canyon at about 8,000 feet, but Smith said the crew had a small landing zone and difficult visual conditions.
"It was all fresh powder, so it was blowing everywhere," Smith said. "That's what we call a white-out landing."
Hospital Corpsman First Class Craig Denbleyker said they arrived a half hour before the group planned to attempt to walk out through 10 miles of snow. He added several members of the group were not dressed for snow and only had make-shift snow boots made by wrapping their tennis shoes in duck tape. The group was in good health, having one or more trailers with food, heat and cooking facilities.
"We got there just in time. They were about ready to walk out on their own," Denbleyker said, adding some of the older group members might have been able to do it, but the children and seniors were not in the same physical condition. "They wouldn't have made it. It (the snow) was so thick that little girl, she could barely walk."
Smith said while flying the first group to Sweetwater Summit where Lyon County Sheriff's Department waited, one woman began to cry.
"I think they were glad to be out of there," Smith said.
Smith said these kinds of rescues are common this time of year and this particular rescue was standard. Even the dachshund wasn't a challenge because the crew has rescued cats, dogs and even a horse before.
"The wiener dog looked happy," Shullo said. "He was running around. He didn't care if he got rescued."
Smith said the group became stuck because they traveled the road before it snowed with only basic preparations for bad weather. Denbleyker said they had snow chains, but the chains broke.
Aviation Warfare Specialist First Class Josh Husband said the group wasn't as prepared as they should have been, primarily because of a lack of warm clothing
He said only the youngest girl and a teen boy were dressed warmly and the rest including one teen girl were wearing sneakers, jeans and sweatshirt type clothing.
Still, Shullo said they were prepared to a degree, having a truck with four- wheel drive and snow chains.
"They had chains. They had a way to get out," Shullo said. "But, it turned out not to be enough."
Shullo said when people going on trips like these they need to plan for the worst possible scenario, check the weather, bring extra warm clothing, and make sure those who stay back know where they are and when they are supposed to return. Smith said stranded people should stay with a vehicle which is easier to spot from a helicopter, and Denbleyker said if people have to walk, they need to stay on the road and wear bright clothing.
"They did a lot of good things," Shullo said. "You just have to really consider all the possibilities. If you are the person kind of in charge, you need to consider all the possible outcomes."