Massive SAR launched last week in Huerfano

Over 100 searchers plus aircraft and even satellites used in search for runner lost for two days in rugged, mountainous country

by E.E.Mullens

HUERFANO – What began as an ambitious, but achievable, run up the Bartlett Trail beginning near Rye, Colo., last week, ended up as a nearly three-day, two-night survival adventure for a young Texas man, who, despite an incredibly well-organized search-and-rescue effort, ended up walking out of the high country on his own.

The effort was recognized in a big way by the missing runners’ family last Friday when they made a very generous donation to the local non-profit search and rescue group. “We were just always right on his heels,” said Huerfano County Sheriff’s Captain Craig Lessar last Friday as Samuel Greenwald and his family met search-and-rescue personnel and others at the sheriff’s office in Walsenburg to show their appreciation for the huge effort that kicked off at about 7 pm Monday, July 20.

An all hands on deck effort using everything from boots on the ground, to satellites in space, was employed in the search for 19-year old Samuel Greenwald of Spring, TX.

Greenwald had been visiting his grandfather, Charles Johnson, at Johnson’s Rye summer home when he decided to run the Bartlett Trail in hopes of summiting Greenhorn Mountain and returning home before it got too dark. Greenwald left about 11 a.m. and had sent a text and photo to Johnson just before 3:25 p.m. “He was not heard from again until he walked out of the wilderness some 25 miles, and 45 hours later on CR 620 in Huerfano County,” said HCSO Deputy Marc Biggins, the sheriff’s office SAR Coordinator.

RAISING THE ALARM

Johnson reported his first-born grandson missing about 7 p.m. Monday with the initial call going to Pueblo 911. Details of the event and jurisdiction were soon made clear and by 8:30 p.m. Huerfano SAR had gotten the call. Biggins and SAR Special Operations officer Lesser arrived at the Bartlett trailhead.

Nightime ground searches were suspended about 2 a.m. Wednesday; but as the new day dawned, volunteers were in place.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Officer Travis Sauder and HCSO SAR volunteer deputy Josh Beechham were the first pair on the mountain trail in the initial or hasty response. The hasty response, as Biggins explained, involves directing pairs of SAR personnel to cover as much as possible of the established trails, and visible terrain along those trails, to rule out areas by process of elimination if the lost person is not immediately contacted.

Biggins said Sauder and Beecham covered 16 miles beginning at 6 a.m. Tuesday. They did not leave the mountain until after 4 p.m. that day. At the same time, Custer County SAR, assigned to search the western approaches of Greenhorn Mountain, had deployed three two-man search teams. “Troy Musgrave and Larry Sanders, both HCSO/SAR volunteers, put in many miles searching over two days,” Biggins said. A Flight for Life helicopter also began aerial operations at first light.

On Tuesday morning additional SAR teams were activated, including the full Huerfano contingent, and teams from Custer County, Beulah FD/SAR, a USFS helicopter, and a high-altitude fixed-wing aircraft equipped with FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared). FLIR allows searchers to be able to capture images of heat signatures from people or animals.

However, by the end of Tuesday, Greenwald had not been found and had already spent one night in the wild.

SO WHAT HAPPENED?

When interviewed Friday, Greenwald said that once he had gotten to the top of Greenhorn on Monday, he could clearly see the entire Bartlett Trail from his 12,343-foot vantage point. But, out of water, he had to leave the trail on the way down to find some of the life-saving fluid.

Greenwald was dressed in running shorts, a tee-shirt, and had a backpack containing his water bottle, a knife, and bear spray when he began his run. He said later he got water from a nearby creek located off the trail, he thought it was best to move away from the water source to avoid any potential predators.

Asked if he had any trepidation about drinking the unfiltered creek water, he immediately answered he felt diarrhea was better than dead. He found a small clearing above the creek and, using the backpack as a pillow, spent his first night shivering in the woods.

He began to move the following morning and said he could hear a helicopter but he knew it could not see him beneath the heavy forest canopy. By Tuesday an additional rotor-wing aircraft from the Lakota Air National Guard had joined the search.

HIKER SAFE AFTER TWO DAYS IN
WILD HUERFANO BACK COUNTY.
Samuel Greenwald, smiling on Friday,
had been lost for 45 hours in the
wilderness between the Bartlett Trail,
outside of Rye, CO and CR 620 in
western Huerfano County. He was the
subject of a very large and high tech
search last week. A bit worse for his
adventure, with cuts on his legs and
arms, the 19-year old Texan, who had intended
to go on a run up the trail to
the summit of Greenhorn Mountain
last Monday, became lost when he
ran out of water and while coming
down from the summit, and left the
trail to find some. Sam is holding a
‘travel cup’ emblazoned with the
words ” 2020 Huerfano County Bartlett
Trail Survival Run, First Place
Sam Greenwald-Duration, 7-20-2020 –
7-22-2020 presented to him Friday,
July 24, 2020 by Huerfano County.
Search and Rescue

The search area was 100 square miles, or roughly 64,000 acres of high, rugged mountainous terrain, said Biggins.

By Tuesday morning, Mike and Erin Tullos, Sam’s parents, had arrived at the command center from the family home in Texas.

Around 3 p.m. David DeTray (Trinidad Ambulance Service and Senior Huerfano County SAR Team leader) and Scott Robertshaw (Custer County/ Beulah SAR) were working on the detailed search plan and contacting additional resources. Forensic cell phone investigation by the Civil Air Patrol’s forensics team helped significantly’ narrow the search area, Biggins said. As the afternoon drug on, aircraft operations had to be suspended under the threat of summer thunderstorms.

UTILIZING ALL RESOURCES

“It pays to have science nerds as friends Erin Tullos told the World Journal on Friday afternoon. Tullos, a research scientist at Exxon Mobile, contacted her friends and colleagues at both Planetlabs of San Francisco, CA, and Maxar of Colorado, both satellite imagery companies. Planet Labs had provided an immediate low-resolution image of the search area by late Tuesday and had promised, if necessary, to have high-resolution images by the end of the week. Tullos said Planetlabs, who deploys approximately 150 satellites in the upper atmosphere that capture images from across the globe, re-tasked and dedicated one of their ‘birds’ to specifically assist in the search. Luckily, the secondary images would not be needed.

Greenwald said as night approached on Tuesday he was filled with anxiety, not so much for himself, but for his family. “l knew they knew I was lost by that time,” he said. “‘I was scared, but I was more worried about what they were going through.”

Towards the end of that second day, before darkness fell and before young Greenwald began looking for a safe place to bed down for another cold night, DeTray and Robertshaw were busy in the command center seeking more searchers. The ground personnel nearly doubled by late that day to over 100 people. By Wednesday morning, search team personnel had grown from 20 people to over 100 and had been augmented by six K9 search teams.

“Gardner Fire and Huerfano deputies were dispatched to perform vehicle patrols along the south aspect roads at the foot of Greenhorn Mountain in the area of CR 620,” Biggins said.

On Wednesday morning, search operations began at first light and concentrated on the assumption Greenwald may have traveled south from the mountain’s summit, Biggins explained. That assumption was based on the last forensic ‘ping/trace’ of the young man’s phone, before its battery went dead, which was provided by the specialized electronic forensic team from the Civil Air Patrol.

At about 11 a.m. Wednesday, Biggins says, “I was contacted by the National Guard helicopter pilot to ask directions as to where to search next. I advised him to concentrate on the south aspect roads at the foot of Greenhorn Mountain, in the area of CR 620 and the steep draws there.”

A LUCKY BREAK

While all this was unfolding, Marie Berthelot had decided not to go into Walsenburg to the family’s screen printing business, which is her usual mid-week practice to get caught up on paperwork. Instead, she stayed home with her sons and began watching a movie. Information had been posted on some Heurfano County Facebook pages and the Berthelots were aware of a dark-haired boy lost somewhere on the Greenhorn. In fact, Marie and husband Scott had discussed the missing person at their morning breakfast table.

While Marie and her boys watched the movie, the family dogs began to act up, indicating there was someone around the house. “There was a tap, a slight tap on the window,” she said, and when she opened the door there stood a dark-haired young man. “You’re the runner they’re looking for,” Marie said to the somewhat bedraggled Sam Greenwald.


A GREAT OUTCOME FOR SEARCH AND RESCUE MISSION. It was smiles all
around from family and local search and rescue folks with the safe return of
Samuel Greenwald (not pictured in this photo) who was lost in the Greenhorn
Mountain area for about three days and two nights last week. Erin Tullos, in
the solid blue short sleeve shirt in the middle of the photo presents a check
for $20,000; $10,000 from the Tullos family and $10,000 match from Mike Tullos’
Texas-based petrochemical company, LyondellBasell; to Paula Berg of
the ‘Friends of Huerfano Search and Rescue’ Friday afternoon at the Huerfano
Sheriff’s Office. Erin and Mike are Sam’s parents.
Others pictured include, from left to right, front row; HCSO Capt. Craig
Lessar (SAR Ops Officer), HCSO Deputy Marc Biggins (HC SAR Coordinator)
Berg, the Tullos, HC Sheriff Bruce Newman, Beulah FD/SAR Scott Robertshaw,
tasked as an operational commander for the incident and Sam’s Grandfather
Charles Johnson; Back row left to right: HCSAR volunteer Troy Musgrave, David
DeTray of Trinidad Ambulance and Senior Huerfano County SAR Team leader,
assigned as an operations commander with Robertshaw in this operation,
HCSO Deputy Josh Beecham and CPW Officer Travis Sauder, the first two SAR
volunteers who hit the Bartlett Trail on the Huerfano side Tuesday morning, and
HCSO Deputy and SAR Volunteer Morgan Chapman. Photo by Eric Mullens
She got Sam a shirt to help warm him up, gave him a cell phone and he
immediately called his mother, but he had to leave a message. Before Erin called
back, Marie notified the sheriff’s office that the missing boy was at her home
and appeared well and uninjured.

Greenwald said he had been able to get some water from a hose at a farmhouse that wasn’t occupied when he got there and continued his southern trek that ended at the Berthelot home. Marie told the World Journal it is a long hike from the base of the mountain to CR 620 and another three and a half miles from their home to highway 69. Marie opened up the family’s RV, turned on the air conditioning and left Sam to decompress some on his own before SAR personnel arrived and his reunion with his happy, thankful family.

At 11:45 a.m. Lessar had received a call from Huerfano’s 911 communications center saying the young man had found his way to a house of CR 620 and had identified himself.

VALUABLE ASSETS; BOTH AGENCIES AND INDIVIDUALS

While there were 115 rescuers including flight crews on the job at the height of the search, Biggins singled out the Custer County volunteers specifically for their well-coordinated and professional efforts. They came up the opposite side of the trail on Tuesday, he said, and while they were able to use vehicles
for part of their ascent, they had really rough ground to cover.

Robertshaw was tapped by Biggins for an operational role in the incident command center, as was DeTray. Biggins said while the two had not worked together before, they formed a seamless partnership almost immediately and were instrumental in helping guide the rescue efforts.

STATEWIDE AND NATIONAL ASSISTANCE

Agencies involved in the effort included: Heurfano SAR / SO; Heurfano 911 dispatch; Custer SAR & SAR base in Westcliffe; Gardner Fire Department; Trinidad Ambulance / Special Ops; Pueblo SAR/ SO; Pueblo SWAT members; Arapahoe, Douglas, Teller, Fremont, and El Paso counties SAR units; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; SARDUS (SAR K9s); USFS – Air Support; DFPC-Air Support; National Guard-Air Support; Flight for Life-Air Support; USAF Rescue Coordination Center; Civil Air Patrol (Cell Phone Forensics Team); Colorado CSAR, and Rye High School for providing helicopter operations landing zone and volunteer muster location.

Greenwald suffered some deep cuts and abrasions, mainly on his legs from the scrub oak and deadfall in the wilderness, and was somewhat dehydrated and emotionally drained when he finally made it out of danger, but by Friday afternoon when he and his family met with SAR volunteers, the entire family couldn’t keep the smiles and relief off of their faces.

Although during his meeting with Greenwald’s parents on Tuesday they indicated Samuel didn’t have a particularly good sense of direction, Biggins said, noting later it was proven that while he was lost, he didn’t become too disoriented as he pretty much knew what direction he was traveling.

GRATEFUL FAMILY

On July 24, when everyone met outside of the sheriff’s office in Walsenburg, there were smiles on every face and stories to tell from the SAR operation, from Sam, his family, and from those who volunteer their time, expertise, and personal safety to find those lost in our beautiful, but dangerous Spanish Peaks territory.

Sam’s family and his father’s petrochemical company, LyondellBasell both made $10,000 donations to the nonprofit ‘Friends of Huerfano SAR’ on Friday. That money will go a long way in assisting future search efforts and to buy necessary rescue equipment, said ‘Friends’ president Paula Berg.