PITKIN COUNTY, Colo. — Three volunteers with Mountain Rescue Aspen were caught and injured in a rockslide Wednesday during the search for a missing man at Capitol Peak.
The Pitkin County Sheriff's Office said the three injured individuals were extricated from the field and brought to a hospital, and one of them sustained serious injuries.
They were part of a team searching for Kelly McDermott, 32, of Madison, Wisconsin. He was reported missing after he was last seen at the trailhead in the parking lot around 8 p.m. Saturday, according to the Colorado Search and Rescue Association (CSAR).
At around 9 p.m. Sunday night, a Pitkin County Sheriff's Office deputy located McDermott's vehicle.
The team of nine rescuers from the all-volunteer group Mountain Rescue Aspen began searching the area of the Capitol Lake Trialhead to Capitol Lake on Monday, as well as a Blackhawk helicopter from the Colorado Army National Guard High-Altitude ARNG Aviation Training Site in Gypsum. Bad weather halted much of the search efforts in the afternoon and evening.
Searchers resumed at 6 a.m. Tuesday from the Snowmass Creek drainage toward Moon Lakes on the east side of Capitol Peak, but they still didn't find McDermott.
On Wednesday morning at 5:30 a.m., 23 searchers in five groups split up to continue the search. The Blackhawk helicopter also resumed searching and spotted McDermott roughly 500 feet below the south end of a ridge known as the "Knife Edge" near the summit of Capitol Peak, according to the sheriff's office. They said they believe he fell and died from his injuries.
As four rescuers were trying to get to McDermott, they noticed recreational climbers were directly uphill from them. They asked the HAATS Blackhawk helicopter to signal to the recreational climbers to move off the ridge, but it appears they didn't understand the request.
As the rescuers continued their climb to McDermott, they heard someone yell "rocks" from above and, moments later, an "avalanche of rocks" came crashing down the mountain towards them. One rescuer was able to avoid being hit, but the other three were struck by the rockslide.
One rescuer has minor injuries to an extremity, and another has moderate injuries to the lower body. The third rescuer injured was seriously hurt after being hit by a rock that knocked the rescuer roughly 20 feet through the air in a somersault motion, the sheriff's office said.
The rescuers immediately administered medical care to the most seriously injured rescuer, and the helicopter helped pick up the rescuers to take them to Aspen Pitkin County Airport. They were taken to Aspen Valley Hospital where two rescuers were treated and released. The most seriously injured rescuer had to be flown to St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood for emergency surgery, according to the sheriff's office.
Plans are being formulated to recover McDermott's body, but it may take days or weeks due to the conditions on Capitol Peak, the sheriff's office said.
Capitol Peak is a Class 4 mountain with a summit at about 14,130 feet. The trail starts at the Capitol Creek Trailhead down Capitol Creek Road off of Snowmass Creek Road. The trail is about 17 miles roundtrip to the summit and back to the parking lot.