WYOMING – Powerful winds whipped up a blizzard as night fell over the Snowy Range east of Saratoga, Wyo., on Christmas Eve. The whiteout conditions caught three snowmachiners out in the dark, unable to find their way back to the trailhead.
The snowmachiners carried an emergency satellite communication device to call the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office.
Carbon County Search and Rescue arrived at the trailhead, entering the raging snowstorm above Ryan Park with a Snowcat and snowmachines.
Darkness, combined with heavy blowing snow, created less than ideal conditions for a rescue operation, lowering the chances of being found, explained Jim Mitchell, Sublette County Emergency Management Agency coordinator.
Fortunately, the missing snowmachiners knew about a new statewide initiative called Be 307 Aware and switched their handheld, two-way radios to channel 307.
Carbon County Search and Rescue monitored channel 307 as the team headed up the heavily timbered slopes until they made contact with the stranded recreationists.
Search and rescue maintained communication with the snowmachiners and were able to pinpoint their exact location and lead them safely down the mountain.
Be 307 Aware proved crucial to the rescue mission, and Mitchell hopes to expand the new program’s life-saving potential.
Be 307 Aware is a collaboration between the Wyoming State Search and Rescue (SAR) Council, the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security and the Wyoming All Hazards Association. Mitchell serves as president of the latter organization.
The 307 frequency is available on any FRS- or GMRS-capable handheld radio or walkie-talkie. The devices are light and small enough for snowmachiners, skiers, hunters, hikers, bikers, backpackers and any other outdoor recreationalists to include in their kit, Mitchell said.
Be 307 Aware allows emergency rescue teams to quickly and accurately locate a person stranded or injured in the wilderness, significantly reducing search time and improving chances for survival, Mitchell said.
Once a search is initiated, search and rescue teams monitor the 307 frequency periodically until they make contact with the party in need of assistance, Mitchell added. The subject can then direct the rescue team to their location over the channel.
Search and rescue can also use 307 to relay life-saving information to the subject or keep the subject’s morale up in a life-or-death situation.
The 307 frequency is not actively monitored by search and rescue until a search is in progress and 307 is not a replacement for 911, Mitchell explained.
Folks headed into the outdoors are encouraged to let someone know where they are going and when they plan to return, Mitchell said. He also recommended asking local authorities about check-in forms before embarking on a wilderness expedition.
Another cold, dark, stormy night
The seed for Be 307 Aware was planted during a conversation between Mitchell and Carbon County Fire Chief and SAR volunteer Pat Waliser in January, 2021.
Waliser expressed concern over an increase in outdoor recreation in the Snowy and Sierra Madre ranges and a parallel rise in outdoor recreationalists running into trouble out on the trail.
Across Wyoming, search and rescue incidents rose between 2009 to 2021. Rescue agencies responded to 322 incidents in 2021, totaling more than 2,000 volunteer hours, according to the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security. The 2021 rate was above the 13-year average of 259 rescue missions per year beginning in 2009, Wyoming Homeland Security reported.
Despite the rise in calls, Mitchell and Waliser noted that a growing number of snowmachiners carried FRS- and GMRS-capable radios and walkie-talkies with them.
Mitchell, a member of Sublette County SAR, witnessed the radios in action soon after his first conversation with Waliser.
Several snowmachiners found themselves stuck in the Wyoming Range last winter, Mitchell said, contending with disabled machines and avalanches.
The stranded snowmachiners attempted to walk back to the trailhead before making the decision to stay where they were, Mitchell said.
“They just dug themselves into a tree well, knowing they were about to spend a cold night in the montains,” he added.
Sublette SAR learned from other snowmachiners at the trailhead that the stranded group had handheld radios with them and were on a certain frequency. Search and Rescue headed up the trail, dailed into the channel and reached the snowmachiners over the radio. The subjects stuck out in the cold and directed rescue teams to the spot where they were hunkered down.
“This greatly reduced the time it took to locate the subjects on that cold, dark and stormy night,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell, Waliser, Converse County Emergency Management Coordinator Russ Dalgarn and Forrest Kamminga from Wyoming State Trails pitched Be 307 Aware to the Wyoming State SAR Council at its June meeting.
Excited about the program, the SAR Council and designated the 307 frequency a “go to channel” for outdoor emergency situations when radios are in use, Mitchell said.
“As all of the counties in the state of Wyoming see increases of recreationalists accessing their respective backcountry, we continue to get the word out that Be 307 Aware is in use and another tool that could be used to save a life,” Mitchell said.
The Wyoming Office of Homeland Security signed onto the project next. The agency’s deputy director, George Nykun, and public information officer Kelly Ruiz, worked with Mitchell to create the Be 307 Aware slogan and logo.
FRS- and GRMS-capable radios are available at numerous retailers across the state, and depending on the model, cost between $60 and $200, Mitchell said.
A helpful video demonstrating how to program radios put out by Backcountry Access is available on YouTube at https://youtu.be/53Q8Ifn5XA0.
For additional information, check out the Be 307 Aware Facebook page at facebook.com/Be-307-Aware-103003218816456/.