Rescue teams stretched this weekend with three mountain searches

Search teams were kept busy this weekend with three rescues overlapping at around the same time in the Big Horn Mountains, employing the full resources of two counties, along with both state and local search teams.Resources were stretched to maximum capacity in nearby Sheridan County in a search for a 12-year-old autistic boy, Benjamin Kellett, lost overnight Saturday through Sunday in the Black Mountain Area of the Big Horn Mountains. The boy had been camping with his Boy Scout troop when he became separated from the group on Saturday morning. The Sheridan County Sheriff’s Department, search and rescue teams on foot and even a Blackhawk helicopter searched for the boy throughout the night. He was located by the Blackhawk team and flown to safety on Sunday afternoon, after spending a night alone in the woods.During the same time period, a call came in at 10:45 p.m. on Saturday to the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Department regarding a backpacker who was separated from his companions near Paint Rock Lake in the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area. The group was on a several day backpacking trip when the slowest member of the group got left behind and lost his way.The hiker was still missing when another call came into the sheriff’s dispatch center on Sunday morning at 9:54 a.m. regarding a severely injured hang-glider in desperate need of medical assistance in a rugged area on Medicine Mountain.“At one point on Sunday we had three major rescues going at the same time,” said Big Horn County Sheriff Ken Blackburn. “Our resources were spread about as thin as I’ve ever seen them spread.SAR-Logo“Since Sheridan County seemed to have enough help to search for the boy, wefocused our efforts first on theinjured hang-glider. We knew the hiker was equipped to spend the night, so we sent out search teams to find the injured man first. Once he was found, we focused our efforts on finding the lost hiker.”The hang-glider, Derrick Douglas Lehman, 28, of Gillette, was preparing to hang-glide with friends near the FAA radar site on Medicine Mountain when a particularly large gust of wind lifted him into the air and dragged him backwards across a rocky area, causing severe injuries.“He was injured very badly, and dragged into a hard to reach area,” said Blackburn.A team from the North Big Horn all-volunteer rescue organization carried the injured man by hand to an awaiting ambulance and the man was transported to North Big Horn Hospital for treatment of his injuries.“Once we got the hang-glider taken care of, the north end rescue team went to assist the south end rescue team in finding the missing hiker,” said Blackburn.Blackburn said the Blackhawk pilots needed to rest in Sheridan overnight after finding the missing boy. In the meantime, a civil air patrol plane out of Jackson equipped with forward-looking infrared equipment (FLIR) capable of finding a human “heat signature” even under a canopy of trees was called into action to assist ground teams with the search.Blackburn said the plane found the hiker, 20-year-old Daniel Paulson of Chicago, at around 1:30 in the afternoon on Monday using the FLIR technology. In the meantime, the Blackhawk team was back in service and joined in the rescue effort. Using the coordinates provided by the civil air team, the Blackhawk helicopter was able to land in a meadow near the hiker and transported him to the trailhead.“It was a happy ending on all three counts,” said Blackburn. “A lot of people were called away from church or a day off from work to help with the searches. That includes deputies, horse teams and teams on foot that hiked for up to 14 hours looking for the missing hiker.“We were in contact with the hiker’s family and they were really appreciative of those efforts,” noted Blackburn. “They were kind of shocked, actually, that people out here do stuff like that to help others.” 

By Patti Carpenter