BOZEMAN - Gallatin County sheriff's deputies and search and rescuers are being hailed as heroes after they rescued a father and son who were lost in the wilderness in the bitter cold Tuesday.
With no cell service, a Utah man and his 12-year-old son found themselves trapped in subzero temperatures and a snow storm on Tuesday night.
Gallatin County officials say that both the father and son had laid down for what rescuers call "the long sleep," and were minutes away from death.
The search started around 6:30 PM, when a Utah woman called to report her husband and 12-year-old son were overdue from a hiking trip in the Spanish Peaks area between Big Sky and Gallatin Gateway. A team of 20 snowmobilers and skiers headed out a few miles off of I-191, with even more volunteers offsite attempting to track the father's cellphone.
Just over three hours into the search, the boy, disoriented and hypothermic, was located by rescuers.
His father was found a couple of hours later, after midnight, by rescuers on skis. He was conscious but also suffering from hypothermia.
The two had apparently become separated after walking in deep snow.
Both were taken to a nearby hospital and later transported to the University of Utah Burn Center to be treated for frostbite. The father is suffering from a frostbitten foot, while the boy has frostbite on his toes.
Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said if rescue crews hadn't located the man and his son, there's no way they would have survived.
"I don't care if you're a search and rescue volunteer, or deputy sheriff, law enforcement person. You do this for one reason and that was yesterday," he said Wednesday. "That was to help people and to save lives. And we did. And I can't tell you how awesome that is."
Gootkin also warns anyone against going out into wild areas.
"As a father, my main message to people out there is just they should have never been out there," he said. "It's not safe when it's below zero, you have snow, you have a storm coming in, not prepared. They are so lucky to be alive."
Sheriff Gootkin thanked all those who responded to the incident last night. One of those people, a Search and Rescue volunteer, was struck in a hit-and-run while driving in the search area. Bozeman Police are asking for information on the suspect.