COOKE CITY — Eight snowmobilers were rescued by helicopter late last week after straying into rugged terrain in the Beartooth Wilderness outside Cooke City.
According to the Park County Sheriff's Office, the snowmobilers were forced to stay overnight before search and rescue found them the next day, and two helicopters were called in to evacuate them.
The snowmobilers from Minnesota and Wisconsin had set out Wednesday morning from Cooke City. The sheriff's office said it received a report at 11 p.m. that the group had not returned. The sheriff's office said the group was reportedly in the Maryott Lake area of the Beartooth Wilderness.
"Park County Search and Rescue (SAR) assisted by members of the Cody Country Snowmobile Association (CCSA) immediately mobilized for the search," the sheriff's office said in a Facebook post. "However, due to not knowing [the] exact location of the missing subjects and the lateness of the day, it was decided not to deploy until daylight."
Search efforts were launched Thursday morning, and at 8 a.m. the group was located after a plane involved in the search located an abandoned snowmobile on the surface of Granite Lake along with multiple tracks.
The tracks led to the southwest corner of the lake where the airplane crew spotted a single rider on a snowmobile that seemed to be circling the area. When the rider spotted the search plane he began waiving and eventually the rest of the lost party was spotted.
"The riders had gotten themselves into an extremely rugged area with steep drops, deep snow, and downed timber," the sheriff's office said in the post. "They were unable to find a way out and eventually ran out of fuel. They then built a fire and hunkered down for the night. The terrain was so hazardous that even the most experienced riders from CCSA ground teams were unable to reach the victims."
A helicopter from Guardian Flight in Cody and a helicopter from Teton County Search and Rescue in Jackson were launched to assist in the rescue.
At 11:45 a.m., the Guardian Flight located the group and landed nearby to give any medical aid that may be needed. All eight members of the group were uninjured and in "good spirits," the sheriff's office said.
The Guardian Flight helicopter left the area at 1:30 p.m. and the second helicopter transporting the group out of the area three at a time to the Island Lake warming hut, where they were then taken to the Pilot Creek parking area to meet with friends and return to Cooke City, the sheriff's office said.
Sheriff Scott Steward took the opportunity to remind residents and visitors that it is illegal to ride snow machines or any other mechanized mode of travel into designated wilderness areas, and the fines can be substantial.
“These areas are designated wilderness for a reason,” Steward said. “They are filled with downed timber, steep accents, deep draws and sheer cliff faces. Much of these areas are unexplored and can be extremely dangerous if you are unfamiliar or unprepared for emergencies should they arise.”