Lost Overnight in The Montana Mountains. Leanna’s Story.
"I really screwed up big time. My fault. been praying hunkered by a tree well. Just want you both to know how much I love you. I didn't mean to go like this. Let the dogs see me.... Love you guys more than words can say. It wouldn't let me make a video cuz I was on safety figured this would have to do. Trying to save battery for flashlight."
Leanna types this on Facebook expecting the worst, even though she has no cell service.
Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda
You never think "it" will happen to you. But "it" happens to someone. Leanna Blankenship didn't expect Saturday January 21st to become one of the scariest nights of her life, or possibly her last night alive, but "it" happened to her.
No matter the activity I know that we should always make sure we are fully packed with essentials, and a survival pack, but it seems like the one time you are not prepared, is the one time you end up needing those items. I know, I was lost on the Colorado River without any supplies, not knowing where my "take out" was, and did not pack my drybag. I always pack my drybag, but not that time. I did find my "take out" that night and everything was just fine. I haven't "forgot" my drybag ever since. Leanna's story is different, she never made it out of those mountains that night. She was stuck, lost, scared, and all alone. OVERNIGHT.
The First Mistake. Actually, The First 2 Mistakes
On that Saturday afternoon Leanna and her group of friends, snowmobiling out of Seeley Lake, were getting ready to head back to their cabin before nightfall. There were a few people separated from the group but not far. They have been together all day, everyone is heading back, and will meet up at the same spot they started their ride that morning. Then once they are all together, they will head back to the cabin as a group.
Leanna told her girlfriend she would be right back and wait here for the rest of their group. Leanna was off to find one member of the group that wasn't too far away, and she knew exactly where he was. She was supposed to be right back.
This is where Leanna told me she made her first two mistakes.
1. She left her friend alone.
2. She took off all by herself.
That Moment You Realize, You Are Lost
It's about 4:00 pm and will be getting dark soon. Leanna realizes that she should have been to her destination by now and she isn't where she thinks she is. No worries, she will turn around and follow her tracks back.
The "Uh Oh" Moment
While turning around Leanna's sled gets stuck. There is nothing easy about getting a snowmobile "unstuck", especially when you are alone. When you are stuck, you are stuck.
Leanna had her cell phone and was able to call her husband Paul, but before she could explain to him where she 'thought" she was, the call was dropped, and then no service was available.
Leanna started trudging through the snow, up the mountain. She was going to find that cell signal. Some areas the snow was thigh high, and you just don't walk through it. She worked, hard. She was concerned about sweating too much and soaking her clothes with sweat from the inside out. She would want to be as dry as possible, because she might not be found tonight.
She had very little battery left in her phone, but still no cell service. She could hear snowmobiles off in the distance and she knew it was her group, looking for her. She tried screaming for them but knew it was hopeless. She was too far away.
She had a two-way radio but there never was a response to her many "Mayday, Mayday's."
Hunkering Down for The Night
Survival mode kicked in for Leanna. She has watched naked and afraid. First thing first, shelter.
In a grove of trees, Leanna found a large tree stump sticking out of the snow, but this tree truck had a large root system. Well, this is what I pictured when she described it to me. There was some space between the tree and the snow she easily fit into. She had broken off tree limbs she used to keep her off the cold wet ground. She also made a large arrow in the snow with tree limbs pointing to the grove of trees she was in.
Periodically she would hear a set of snowmobilers off in the distance and she would crawl out of her shelter and run out from the grove of trees into a nearby clearing to scream and wave her arms in the air. They were still too far away to hear or see her. She didn't have any matches or lighter to start a fire.
She can see it and hear it. There is a helicopter. She runs back to the clearing to try and be seen, but they don't see her. It's quiet again. She heads back to her shelter.
It Starts Snowing
Leanna decides that she is getting out of there come first light.
"In the morning I am walking downhill towards the bottom of the valley the big snow.mtns will be at my 2 3 o clock side. I am not too cold. Out of the wind.phone dying.hopefully I am not! I have been moving standing up"
She posts this on Facebook hoping that it will automatically send if she walks into service. Even if it's just for a minute or two.
At The Search & Rescue Rendezvous
It's been a rough night for the group. My husband was one of the snowmobilers with Leanna that day. Nobody is really saying it, but everyone is thinking it. Can Leanna survive the night? The helicopter is using heat vision, but they haven't found anything yet. The snow picks up. The helicopter was called off. They know they needed more snowmobilers to help with the search.
They continued to search through the night, making runs back and forth from the warming shack as a group.
Leanna's daughter Britney spent the night online trying to access different accounts that might have been tracking Leanna's location. Not sure how she did it, or what account she was able to access but did find some information that she shared with Search & Rescue. With this information they were able to find the tower her cell phone pinged off of when she lost service while talking with her husband Paul.
Getting Out of Here
Leanna starts walking. She is determined to get off this mountain. Then she hears a voice. It's her two-way radio.
"Leanna Blankenship, this is Search & Rescue. We have found your location and are sending help."
About 10am Sunday morning Leanna was rescued. She made it home, safe and sound. There could have been a different ending to this story. A heartbreaking kind of ending. But it's not.
Leanna's husband Paul posts the following on Facebook:
"Now that we are home safe it is with my deepest appreciation and thankfulness to all who helped find my wife Leanna Blankenship in her time of need. This is hands down the scariest thing both she and I have ever had to deal with. Seeley Lake SAR, Two Bear Air Rescue out of Kalispell, all the strangers on the trail, Jimmy Johnson, Bret Walker, Dale Whitish, all the friends and family who were there and also those who were in route and ready to help especially our daughter Britney Blankenship who was able to locate her mother's location by tracing her phone and providing her location. Kyle Huetis, Caleb and crew for actually finding her. Sheriff's department and any I have forgotten you are all my heroes; I cannot thank you enough!!!
- Take the Montana FWP Online Safety Education Course for snowmobilers.
- Click here to download Montana's take-along winter survival handbook.
- For current sledding conditions check out Avalanche.org.
- MSA - HOME (snowmobilemt.org)
- Montana Snowmobile Clubs | SnowGoer
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