“Marooned by Modern Technology”: 9 People Rescued in Sweetwater County
On a freezing Wednesday morning in the middle of December, a seemingly endless winter storm wreaked havoc across the state.
"A treacherous concoction of wet, heavy snow coupled with near-hurricane-force winds tightened its grip with blizzard-like conditions throughout much of Sweetwater County, rendering the interstate and many of the county’s roadways impassable" read a recent press release from the Sweetwater County Sheriff's Office.
The Wyoming Department of Transportation warned of prolonged road closures. Much of Wyoming was officially closed with an unknown reopening time.
The Sheriff's office release said that a call came in from dispatch around noon.
A family of three from Wisconsin were trying to make their way back to Rock Springs from Casper.
"In an unintentional attempt to avoid the Interstate-80 closure east of Rock Springs, their SUV’s GPS navigation system unwittingly diverted them onto a seasonally unmaintained dirt road across an arctic tundra no longer recognizable as the county’s Red Desert."
They ultimately found themselves stuck in a ditch in their Ford Explorer, covered in a foot of fresh, blowing snow with a dwindling suppy of gas in their tank, little cell service and a toddler in tow.
The release said they were nearly 40 miles north of the interstate, between Rock Springs and Rawlins, in the middle of nowhere. The sheriff’s office immediately activated its search and rescue team.
"As the young mother from Wisconsin would later describe to authorities, from the pitch-black, a dim glow suddenly appeared out of nowhere along the horizon. It was just after 6 p.m. The woman, her husband and their toddler son patiently waited as the lights slowly grew bigger, and brighter."
The release said that by the time the deputies rescued them their Ford Explorer was entrencehd in a 2- to 3-foot ditch.
This was not the only emergency call of the day for the Sweetwater County Sheriff's Office.
They had already rescued a middle-aged, diabetic woman and her husband who were traveling from New York to pick up their college-aged daughter in Washington state for the holidays.
"The calls kept coming in."
There was one at 3 p.m. Another at 4 p.m. and another around 6:30 p.m. according to the release.
Later rescuers discovered more who were stranded without cell service.
"For those stuck on the roads in weather conditions as extreme as those experienced that day, the consequences of every decision — such as whether to stay or leave the car — can prove far more precarious than expected, said Search and Rescue Commander and Detention Center Lt. Rich Kaumo.
“In those conditions, even a healthy adult in average physical shape wearing a winter hat, gloves, coat and boots only has maybe 30 minutes of exposure to the elements before they start to lose their ability to keep moving. It’s very easy to become disoriented or lost, and your capacity to make clear, rational decisions degrades quickly.”
“It was all hands on deck,” said Field Services Lt. Rich Fischer. “With all the rescue calls, the crashes, and our daily responsibilities in and around Rock Springs and Green River, our patrol division was stretched very thin with little room left to negotiate further staffing changes.”
The Sheriff's office rescued 9 people that day, which is second only to their all-time record of 12 from White Mountain during a deadly winter storm on the Thanksgiving weekend of 2019.