Kyle Magin
Bonanza Staff Writer

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February 16, 2009
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Lake Tahoe rescuers save California couple lost in snowstorm

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev." Blinding snow, fading sunlight and cold temperatures led to a few tense hours Sunday afternoon as rescuers from the Washoe County Sheriff's Office and North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District searched for a California couple lost by the Mt. Rose Meadows. east of State Highway 431.

No one was injured.

The couple, identified in a WCSO report only as Californians in their late 20s, were snowshoeing in the area when they realized they were lost around 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

According to the WCSO report, they called dispatch by cell phone saying they were lost and needed assistance.

A deputy from the Incline substation responded initially, said Sgt. Frank Schumann, before realizing search and rescue would be needed and called for the special operations group at about 2:45.

About 18 people from the WCSO's search and rescue division arrived, along with seven members of the NLTFPD's A-shift the fire district's snowmobiles.

What awaited them were 30-40 mph wind gusts and driving snow, said A-shift battalion chief Mike Schwartz, who responded to the scene.

"What affected us the most is that once the snowmobile drivers lose daylight their effectiveness is cut in half," Schwartz said.

They also faced 'considerable' avalanche danger, Schwartz said, something every team member was briefed on before the search started.

The search started at about 3:05 p.m. at about 8,600 feet, with the Sheriff's search and rescue Hasty Team sweeping the area.

"What worked in our favor was we were in cell phone contact with the people the whole time, so when the storm cleared here and there they could see the lights from Tahoe," Schwartz said. "They were getting more and more anxious as we started to lose daylight."

Schwartz said the two had a small amount of food and water but not much else.

As darkness dropped on the mountain, Schwartz said the rescuers made another discovery " a female snowshoer.

"She had no transceiver, nothing, so it was good that we found her," Schwartz said.

The snowshoer was fine, Schwartz said, and the search continued for the hikers.

They were located southwest of the Tahoe Rim Trail at about 6:30 p.m. by a search and rescue dog, Geiger, a black lab.

"We were on the phone with them and they said they found the dog," Schwartz said. "We said, no, the dog found you."

The couple made contact with Geiger's handlers a short while later and, due to the snow drifts which Schwartz said could get up to about six feet, it took the rescuers about an hour to get the pair back to the highway.

Their story serves as a lesson, Schwartz said, on what you need if you plan to get out in the backcountry during the winter.

"Everyone needs to, at bare minimum, carry a compass," Schwartz said. The couple did not carry a compass, transceiver or GPS system. "Anymore, especially with the avalanche danger, people should carry transceivers and a GPS, there is no reason not to."

Schwartz said to always hike with other people and to tell people where you are going.

He also commended the work of the rescuers.

"I was so impressed by the Washoe County people and how they worked with us in the unified command," Schwartz said. "We've got a great relationship with them and it showed in how we worked together."

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Feb 16, 2009 06:28PM Published Feb 16, 2009 06:28PM Copyright 2009 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.