Snowmobile outing nearly turns deadly

Priest Lake Search & Rescue volunteers and deputies stage outside the sheriff’s mobile command unit during a hunt for two overdue snowmobilers. (Photo courtesy BCSO)

SANDPOINT — A casual snowmobile ride in the woods of Hoodoo Valley turned into a nearly deadly ordeal for a Washington state couple.

Sheriff’s officials said the couple set out on a sled from a residence on Sonsie Lane in southwestern Bonner County at about 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, but failed to return from the jaunt.

Friends and family began looking for them, but they were unsuccessful and notified sheriff’s officials on Monday morning that their guests were missing, which triggered the mobilization of Priest Lake Search & Rescue.

Sheriff’s Lt. Ror Lakewold said the couple apparently encountered mechanical trouble during their excursion and ended up weathering a winter storm that dumped 6-8 inches of new snow between Sunday night and Monday morning.

The female half of the couple made it on foot to a residence on nearby Beare Road on Monday. Rescuers then backtracked from that location and found the male half in a comatose state due to hypothermia.

Sheriff Daryl Wheeler, who was briefed by the mission’s incident command staff, said the male was near death.

“I was advised that he had about an hour to live before he would have expired,” said Wheeler.

Lakewold said the couple, residents of Otis Orchards who are in their 40s, were not dressed or equipped for an overnight bivouac.

“They were in pretty rough shape,” said Lakewold.

There were reports that the couple may have had a mobile phone, although Lakewold said searchers were not able to reach them using the number and it was not used to make any distress calls.

“We don’t know if they had it with them,” Lakewold said.

The couple did not specify which direction they were headed, which broadened the search area.

“We spent a lot of time chasing old tracks,” said Lakewold, who added that the falling snow further hindered the search.

Lost hikers and travelers are generally encouraged to stay put and await rescue, although Lakewold said that advice may not have served the couple because they didn’t leave word about their destination or direction of travel.

Moreover, they weren’t reported missing until the day after they departed.

“In this case, I wish they would have called sooner,” said Lakewold. “In that situation every moment counts.”

Lakewold recommends people advise others of their destination, route and expected return time before they embark on an outing.

“Think safety before you go anywhere,” said Lakewold.

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