- 24th Activation
BLACKHEAD MOUNTAIN SEARCH, RESCUE AND RECOVERY
Hensonville, NY - Greene County March 15, 2010
CASART was activated for a search and rescue mission in the vicinity of Hensonville, in Greene County, NY on Sunday night 03/14/2010, around 11:00 p.m. The search was for two hikers lost on Blackhead Mountain in the northern Catskill Mountains. The Forest Rangers requested only highly experienced winter ready volunteers for Type I searches in very rugged terrain with 6 to 7 feet of snow on the ground. Two CASART members responded.
Alberto Risenberg (50) of Virginia and Seth Lyon (49) of Poughkeepsie, both experienced hikers, had arrived at a lean-to on Blackhead Mountain in the Windham-Blackhead Range Wilderness Area Friday evening where they spent the night. Blackhead Mountain is the fifth highest mountain in the Catskills at an elevation of 3,900 feet. Lyon is said to have been very familiar with the area and was well-known for his work as a dedicated trail maintainer.
At 7:30 a.m. Saturday morning, 03/13/10, the men set off on a day-hike, minimally equipped, leaving their overnight gear and food at the leanto. During their hike a storm blew in with 20-40 mph winds, stronger gusts and thick wet snow. A lack of visibility caused them to miss the trail junction to their destination. When they realized their error they turned around only to find that snow had covered their tracks. Disoriented and without a GPS they spent the rest of the day trying to locate the leanto containing their provisions without success. By nightfall they were out of food and water and decided to build a snow cave to hunker down for the night with the two space blankets they had. At about 9:30 p.m. Saturday night, they called 911. They told emergency responders: “We’re in trouble” and described the area, but the information was not specific enough for Forest Rangers to identify their position. Luckily, the cell phone was able to be “pinged” during the call to get an approximate GPS coordinate.
Risenberg and Lyon spent Saturday night in their snow shelter with temperatures lingering in the low 30s.
From Risenberg’s account, by Sunday morning both men had lost mobility in their hands from the cold and Risenberg was unable to walk. Loss of motor control is a symptom of advancing hypothermia, but Lyon, who could still walk, is said to have repeated “I have to go down, I have to go down.” Without motor control in his hands, Lyon couldn’t strap on his snowshoes. Risenberg said that Lyon left the snow shelter without his snowshoes “In a last ditch effort to find help.”
On Sunday morning, 03/14/10, an Incident Command Post (ICP) was set up at the Hensonville Fire Station on Co. Rt. 65 in Hensonville, NY and was also used as the assembly point. With approximate GPS coordinates from the cell phone, ten Forest Rangers, the Hensonville Fire Department and the Greene County Sheriff’s Department began a search, but had a difficult time, slowed by continuing wind, snow and fog. Rangers reported that visibility was less than 15 feet and that even signal shots from a pistol could not be heard 100 yards away. Helicopters could not be dispatched due to “low and impenetrable cloud cover.”
At 8:55 p.m. Sunday night, 03/14/10, almost 24 hours after their 911 call, forest rangers located Risenberg alive by yelling his name and hearing him respond. He was under a blanket in his snow cave near the summit at an elevation of about 3,700 feet. The rangers set up a winter shelter around Risenberg and provided him with dry clothing, food and water to stabilize him and stayed with him through the night. It was only then that Rangers learned that his companion, Seth Lyon had left the shelter earlier that day and had not been heard from since. With Risenberg stabilized but Lyon still missing, authorities put out a request for experienced winter ready searchers. CASART was contacted around 11:00 p.m. Sunday night, 03/14/2010 and was activated by the New York State Federation of Search and Rescue Teams.
On Monday morning, 03/15/10, as the search was being organized for Seth Lyon at ICP, his hiking partner Alberto Risenberg was stable enough to walk off the mountain assisted by Forest Rangers.
CASART members Mike Krumme and Roy Reehil reported to ICP shortly after 8:00 a.m. Monday morning. The assignment they received was to ascend to about 3,000 ft. elevation and then to do a type II sweep across the mountain below the area of the snow shelter where Risenberg was found. The crew consisted of Mike Krumme, Roy Reehil, two searchers from New Jersey, two from Massachusetts and four NYS Forest Rangers.
On the way to the trailhead (still in their vehicles) the convoy met the Rangers who were bringing out Risenberg. Risenberg was able to be interviewed briefly by a ranger on their crew who indicated that the assignment would be in a location with a high probability of locating the subject. Once back to the vehicles, Risenberg refused medical attention.
Weather conditions were still bad, a quick changing mix of sleet, rain, and snow with high winds in open areas and temperatures hovering around freezing. On the mountain the snow was as deep as the trail markers on the trees. One searcher hit a “hemlock hole” and crashed down several feet.
Corn snow on the foot bridges was higher than the railings and made them extremely slippery and dangerous to pass. Several searchers snowshoes slipped down under the railings putting them in uncomfortable contortions, but no one was injured.
The crew travelled 6.8 miles in about 4.5 hours, ascending to nearly 3,000 feet, the elevation at which they were going to begin their sweep. They used a hemlock thicket to get out of the wind and break for lunch. During the break they heard over the radio that a pack was found. Shortly after that the subject was found. He had only made it 100 feet below the snow cave where his friend had hunkered down and survived. Greene County Sheriff Greg Seeley said the cause of death appeared to be hypothermia.
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