Snowmobile survivors get warnings for wilderness violations | SummitDaily.com
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Snowmobile survivors get warnings for wilderness violations

BOB BERWYNsummit daily newsSummit County, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY A pair of men who got lost on their snowmobiles and survived a deadly blizzard for two nights in the Gore Range last January will get U.S. Forest Service warnings but no citations for violating a ban on snowmobile use in a wilderness area. A third man, John McKibben, of Kremmling, died of hypothermia in the backcountry. The trio set out for a day trip into the Elliot Ridge area of the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area on Jan. 27, intending to return that night. A search the next day was hampered by heavy snowfall, and the two survivors werent rescued by a National Guard helicopter until Jan. 29.Forest Service officials debated internally whether to pursue charges against the snowmobilers. Special agent Travis Lunders investigated the incident and submitted a report to an assistant U.S. attorney in Grand Junction, who recently made the decision to issue warning letters.The federal government decided not to pursue criminal charges against the men because they were just following McKibben, who was the local expert with knowledge of the area, Lunders said. The two survivors had neither the skills nor the right snowmobiles for the terrain, Lunders said. The Elliot Ridge area is often subject to unauthorized snowmobile use, according to local wilderness advocates. As part of the investigation and subsequent follow-up, the Forest Service hopes to include the two men in an effort to improve signage at the boundary of the wilderness area, Lunders said.The Forest Service report hasnt been released publicly but will be available in about a month, once the federal government has finalized the warning letters, Lunders said.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.


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