CONEJOS — High and rapidly flowing water Monday stalled a search and rescue operation when an individual, trapped on the side of a mountain, couldn’t get out, according to Conejos County Sheriff Garth Crowther.
Crowther said his office received notification June 10 of an emergency distress signal within Conejos County.
The location of the signal was plotted on a map and located approximately five miles south of the lower South Fork creek trailhead.
Numerous signals came from the same location, Crowther added.
Sheriff's and U.S. Forest Service law enforcement sent a four-man search and rescue team to the trailhead and a two-man team attempted to reach the GPS coordinates, coming within two miles of the signal, but unable to cross the creek due to high water and dangerous conditions.
While the ground team was attempting to get to the location, Crowther reported, a helicopter was launched from Classic Air Medical out of Los Alamos, N.M.
After two hours of flight time, the helicopter crew was unable to locate the victim and returned to base.
A Flight for Life helicopter was launched out of Durango at 5:45 p.m. and was in the area at 6:30 p.m., able to locate the victim, who was trapped on the side of a mountain and couldn’t move up or down due to high, dangerous water.
There are no landing zones on the side of the river where the victim was located and the flight team was unable to reach him due to high water and heavy timber.
Provisions for the night were dropped to the victim and Flight for Life returned at 8:15 a.m. Tuesday to access the area in daylight. Crowther said the helicopter crew was able to pick up the individual, completing the mission by 9:50 a.m.
The sheriff said, “As a reminder, please be cautious of the high water conditions. The conditions are changing rapidly and it is predicted that the highest water levels have not peaked in the area yet.”
County officials reported last week that there was no widespread flooding, although there were some isolated spots and low areas along the highway with extra water.
Guadalupe residences have several inches of water in the yards, but vehicles can still access them.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported snowmelt will continue to produce high flows in creeks, streams and rivers across the southwest mountains and portions of the San Luis Valley.
Snowmelt in the high country is causing many creeks, streams and rivers in the southwest mountains, and portions of Valley to run high and fast, with some areas reporting flooding. Warm temperatures are expected to persist and the snowmelt will continue, with possible flooding the next several days.
The flood watch continues for portions of central and south central Colorado, including the La Garita mountains, the central and southern San Luis Valley, the eastern San Juan mountains and the upper Rio Grande Valley.
A flood watch means there is a potential for flooding based on current forecasts. The public is advised to monitor later forecasts and be alert for possible flood warnings. Those living in areas prone to flooding should be prepared to take action should flooding develop, emergency agencies warn.