North Fork SAR expertise

March 4, 2020 7:26 AM

The skies were abuzz in the North Fork this past weekend. North Valley Search and Rescue members gathered at the Ogle’s for the first field training up this way in a while. Mark Heaphy could not have executed it any better and more graciously (though he’ll insist, undoubtedly as any leader would, that the help from many, probably mostly his wife Margaret, made it possible). From the snowstorm he prompted only as the helicopter left the scene to the timing of the hoist operation training, where a few, shall we say, dedicated and hearty volunteers signed up to be hoisted up in the air, by only a cable, some 150 to 200 feet to the ship. I mean that’s a real leap of faith on Leap Day.

The entire thing was surreal to observe, even after going to the initial training that prepared us for what to expect and what to do. Although it was a training, with no emergency at hand, the urgent yet calm precision with which Jim Bob (a tall, lanky fella who really pulls off a tan pilot’s onesie) maneuvered the helicopter during the hoisting operation was out of a movie. It created quite an adrenaline rush for those of us on the ground. The hurricane-force winds slaying the ground, that whipped ice chunks, snow and debris at our faces, were created by the engineered swirling of the propellers up above, enabling the thing to remain in a perfect hover. That may have added to the intense nature of the drill. During the training, nine hoists were executed without a hitch or a wasted moment and it made me realize what a resource we have to brag about here in the Flathead Valley, home to Two Bear Air, as I’m sure many of you are well aware. They also have a RECCO device that can echo locate potential victims from super far away to a pretty findable location. They were the first in the United States to tote such technology.

As the flakes thickened up at Kintla Ranch, we separated into four groups for the second half of the day. My team was tasked with eating lunch. Okay, fine. Bonny Ogle and Lois Walker had prepared a cabin full of warmth, hot meat and mac and cheese! And then, they opted to whip up a recipe from the North Fork Cookbook by Peggy Holton. Calico beans?! Yes please. It fed many and was a perfect welcome-in from the elements as well as good preparation to go back into them.

That was all washed down with bottomless coffee and cookies and epic tales from Lynn Ogle and Larry Wilson, who joined us at the table to divulge tales of their adventures as rescuers and North Forkers. The two have a tendency to go hand-in-hand.

After lunch it was scenario time for my team. Rachel Jenkins and I were assigned to be the victims in a rescue operation. We were quickly found by the capable hands of four SAR team members, although I had “enough whiskey” to keep her from bleeding out from a “femur fracture.” She was packaged and loaded onto the sled ambulance after her leg was splinted and she was rolled and strapped onto the stretcher. The team then got an unexpected, official training on how to maneuver the sled ambulance through lodgepole thickets, patient in tow. Fortunately, they made it back to the road in good spirits and all together. Success!

We raced back to basecamp to squeeze in a bit more field training before the day was done. GPS tracking, using beacons, operating snowmobiles and snow cats, everyone quickly dispersed to get their hands on it. The ambition of all the 25-30 folks present was impressive. I mean no one is getting paid, yet, on a Saturday everyone shows up to train. In an emergency situation I certainly trust my life in the hands of those I observed.

The broad swath of know-how and skills that makes up this outfit is, well, impressive. Again, we in the Flathead, I suppose North Valley jurisdiction to be more specific, are lucky to have such an organization. And no doubt a thank you necessary to the old-timers who are the foundation of what, now, is. So, thanks.

The last perfectly orchestrated piece was the alpine glow and fresh deposit of snow on ice for the drive home. Another good weekend on the North Fork.

What do you think?

Flannery Coats writes about North Fork life for the Hungry Horse News.