ONTONAGON - Michigan Department of Natural Resources staff played a key role in the rescue of two missing snowmobilers earlier this week. They called the snowmobiler's ability to endure extreme weather conditions "an incredible survival story."
Two snowmobilers, missing in the backcountry near Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park for more than 24 hours during blizzard weather conditions, were rescued Monday afternoon by a team of DNR Parks and Recreation staff working in conjunction with local, state and federal agencies.
At approximately 2 p.m. Monday, after snowshoeing through blinding snow, wind chills of 40 degrees below zero, and snow depths in excess of four feet for several hours, DNR Parks and Recreation district supervisor Bill Doan and park rangers Jimmy Newkirk, David Merk and Emily Pleiness successfully located Benjamin M. Jenney Sr. and Benjamin M. Jenney Jr., a father and son from Albertville, Minn., approximately two miles from the nearest road.
The Jenneys, who were suffering from frostbite, hypothermia and dehydration, were helped to nearby snowmobiles and transported by Michigan State Police and local volunteers to an area accessible by ambulance.
The pair became stranded after their snowmobiles broke through the ice on the Little Iron River Sunday afternoon. Although the area does not receive reliable cell phone coverage, the Jenneys were able to send several text messages to family relaying their situation.
Using geo-location data attached to the text messages, Michigan State Police and the Civil Air Patrol identified a remote four-square-mile area where the Jenneys were last known to be, allowing the DNR ranger team to begin a coordinated search and rescue effort along the Little Iron River corridor Monday morning.
Due to deep snow off trail and open water on the river, Doan determined the rangers would need to search by snowshoe rather than by snowmobile. The team broke up, with Doan and three rangers hiking in from the north end while ranger Justin Farley and a local volunteer hiked in from the south, traversing rugged terrain, thin ice and open water.
"This is truly an incredible survival story on the part of the snowmobilers who were able to keep moving and survive a night outdoors in these extreme elements," said park supervisor Kasey Mahony. "The effort of our park staff is also commendable, with one ranger spending more than eight hours searching off-trail on snowshoes in exceptionally difficult weather conditions. The dedication of our staff in responding to backcountry emergencies, and their commitment to regularly completing search and rescue and emergency response training, proved instrumental in the positive outcome for these snowmobilers."
The DNR rangers were part of a search and rescue effort coordinated by the Michigan State Police, in partnership with the Michigan Civil Air Patrol, Ontonagon County Sheriff's Department, Ontonagon County Community Emergency Response Team, Ontonagon County Emergency Manager, U.S. Forest Service, DNR Law Enforcement Division, U.S. Air Force and Coast Guard, AmericInn of Silver City, Sled Necks of Wisconsin, Sonco Ambulance, and many other local volunteers.
For snowmobile safety tips and regulations, visit www.michigan.gov/snowmobiling.