NORDIC SKIERS RESCUED ON METOLIUS WINDIGO TRAIL
Location: Happy Valley-NW of Tumalo Falls
Released by: Deputy Jim Whitcomb Asst SAR Coordinator
Release Date: 03/07/2019
Rescued: Ted Gifford 69 yom Green Bay, WI
Robert Skille 73 yom Silverton, OR
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By: Lt. Bryan Husband, Search and Rescue Coordinator
It is with great sadness, we have learned that Ted Gifford died on the evening of 03/08/19, at St. Charles Hospital in Bend. Mr. Gifford had been admitted to St. Charles in the early morning hours on 03/07/19, after he and Mr. Skille had been rescued from the Metolius Windigo Trail previously reported. Mr. Skille had also been admitted to St. Charles Hospital on 03/07/19 and has since been released. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Gifford family.
This tragedy should serve as a solemn reminder of the inherent dangers associated with recreating in the backcountry, especially during cold weather events.
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On 03/06/2019, at about 5:24pm, Deschutes County Dispatch received a broken 911 call from a male who advised he was cross country skiing on the Metolius Windigo Trail after beginning at Mt Bachelor. The call was dropped when the male said something about broken equipment. Dispatch was able to provide coordinates for the phone location with an accuracy of 121 meters.
The call was made from a cell phone that did not have cellular service, was able to call 911, but not able to receive calls or texts. Dispatch was not able to obtain the name of the caller and other pertinent information. The coordinates placed the location of the call in the Happy Valley area about 3.75 miles NW of Tumalo Falls.
Two DCSO Deputies and three DCSO Search and Rescue Volunteers immediately began planning best access routes to the skier’s location. Additional DCSO SAR Volunteers were called out to begin their response for the rescue mission. At about 8:09pm six DCSO SAR Volunteers deployed from Dutchman Snow Park on six snowmobiles to the area of the coordinates which were about 300 yards south of Happy Hut shelter managed by Three Sisters Backcountry Inc. When DCSO SAR teams arrived at the hut at about 9:31pm, it was confirmed there was no one at the shelter, nor were there any fresh tracks in the snow in the immediate area. Four of the six snowmobile riders then deployed on skis to check the cross country trail in both directions that pass by the hut.
At about 9:49pm, two DCSO SAR Volunteer skiers located fresh tracks in the snow. At about 10:15pm, not one, but two male Nordic skiers were located about .25 miles south of the Happy Hut shelter. One of the skiers, Ted Gifford, was suffering from a life threatening condition as a result of the temperature and snow conditions. The second skier, Robert Skille, was found in much better condition, but still extremely cold. DCSO SAR Volunteers immediately began warming efforts with Gifford.
It was learned that Gifford and Skille had been on a multi-day back country Nordic ski trip with planned overnight stops at the various Three Sisters Backcountry warming shelters. They began their trip on Tuesday, 03/05/19, but were never able to find their Tuesday night shelter, forcing them to take cover overnight in a tree well. They also had lost one of their cell phones, leaving them with only one cell phone with questionable service. They attempted numerous times to call out on their cell phone without success, before finally getting through with the one broken 9-1-1 call received.
DCSO SAR Volunteers on scene with Gifford and Skille quickly determined Gifford would not be able to move on his own and requested additional Volunteers respond to their location to help transport him via rescue sled to the closest snowmobile trail. Five additional DCSO SAR Volunteers responded to the skiers’ location to assist with the sled transport of Gifford.
Gifford was transported via rescue sled approximately 300 yards through deep snow and arduous conditions, where they were able to transfer him to an enclosed and heated ambu-sled. The ambu-sled was then transported via snowmobile back to Mt. Bachelor parking lot, arriving at approximately 2:30am. Bend Fire Department Personnel were standing by and both Gifford and Skille were transferred to their care as soon as they arrived. Skille had been able to hike to the snowmobile trail with DCSO SAR Volunteers and was transported down the mountain on a snowmobile capable of carrying two riders. Air Ambulances were unable to fly due to the weather conditions. Bend Fire transported both Gifford and Skille to St. Charles Hospital in Bend for further treatment.
The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank the Sisters Sno-Gopher Snowmobile Club, who had a trail groomer in the area which was able to groom the trails between Dutchman Flat through Snowmobile Trail 8 near the area of Happy Hut Shelter. This facilitated a quicker/safer response and rescue of Gifford and Skille.
The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office is a full service agency that oversees the adult jail, provides patrol, criminal investigations, civil process and search and rescue operations. Special units include SWAT, Marine Patrol, ATV Patrol, Forest Patrol, along with four K9 teams. Founded in 1916 and today lead by your duly elected Sheriff L. Shane Nelson, the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office serves the nearly 190,000 residents in Deschutes County. The agency has 230 authorized and funded personnel, which includes 187 sworn employees who provide services to the 3,055 square miles of Deschutes County.
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