Alamosa Volunteer Search And Rescue has made the very difficult decision to suspend all Search efforts in the Search for Vaughn Fetzer.
AVSAR conducted this mission up to the edge of our acceptable level of risk. That specific environment has significant inherent risk due to the hazardous terrain including steep loose terrain and exposure. We took calculated risks and deployed our team with intentionality to cover that terrain thoroughly to the best of our ability and with a margin of safety. Our search area included all probable routes each of which have significant risk of injury or death.
Even with teams deployed taking every precaution possible to protect themselves in this environment, things still happen. One team member who was on a team of three searching the Gash Ridge, was struck by a dislodged slab of rock in the couloir that fell several feet onto his right leg. He was extracted by a helicopter, evaluated by EMS, and later seen by Emergency Room Physicians.
We must prioritize the safety of all teams and pushing into that terrain any further would require a level of risk that is beyond what we believe is reasonable considering the circumstances.
Vaughn’s location was made known to AVSAR Sunday (9/26) by friends of Vaughn who found him while searching the area, that afternoon. The 58HJ Helitak Flight Crew of Canon City were dispatched to the scene to gain knowledge of the location, for operations beginning in the morning. AVSAR team members were inserted Monday morning (9/27) to a landing zone south east of Blanca Peak by 58HJ Helitak Crew. Teams began the hike up the large scree field to Vaughn’s location. Vaughn was in a location that was precariously blocked by a large boulder. This boulder visually blocked Vaughn’s location from almost every angle, including the air.
Vaughn was recovered by AVSAR team members, who treated him with the utmost respect and love to begin his final journey off the mountain. Vaughn was flown to AVSAR’s Incident command location by the 58HJ crew and then turned over to the Costilla County Coroner. All AVSAR team members were safely off the mountain and back to Incident Command by 1330.
Over the several operational periods in the Search and Recovery of Vaughn Fetzer, AVSAR had teams on the ground in three different basins and two separate teams on the Gash Ridge, teams on Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point, deployed a drone to assist in aerial searches, acquired the DFPC Multi Mission Aircraft equipped with a FLIR device to sense any heat signatures in the Search area, acquired the 58HJ Helitak Crew of Canon City to insert and extract team members into upper landing zones near the Search area and assist in aerial searches, requested Cell Phone Forensics on Vaughn’s phone by the AFRCC, requested access to Vaughn’s Garmin Device, acquired the DFPC MMA Fixed Wing Aircraft to take high resolution pictures and videos of our search area and also program into their software to look for a specific color blue (a long sleeve shirt that AVSAR Leadership believed was on Vaughn the day he went missing), and continued to speak with those hikers who had seen Vaughn in the area on Saturday to gain more information and speak with his loved ones to get photos of his clothing, gear etc.
Our deepest condolences go to all those who knew and loved Vaughn Fetzer during this incredibly difficult time. AVSAR cannot thank Vaughn’s friends enough for aiding in the Search to locate him. AVSAR never gave up on Vaughn. After a team member getting injured on 9/22 while searching for Vaughn, AVSAR made the very difficult decision to suspend search efforts until more credible information became available. During this pause period, AVSAR coordinated a highly experienced Drone Operator from another SAR Team in the state to come assist in the Search. This was just hours before the call came in that Vaughn was possibly located.
AVSAR would like to thank:
Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control and the Heroic 58HJ Helitak flight crew of Canon City.
And all of those who assisted on this mission:
Alamosa County Sheriff’s Office
Colorado Department of Fire Prevention and Control MMA Aircraft
Custer County SAR
Colorado State Patrol Dispatch in Alamosa
Costilla County Coroner