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Family fearful of mountain lions rescued by helicopter north of Durango

‘We decided that we needed to have them extricated sooner than later,’ said search and rescue official
A Flight For Life helicopter takes off from the Bradfield Bridge campground. A family of three was rescued by helicopter last week north of Durango after the parents became fearful two mountain lions were stalking them. (The Journal file)

A family of three, including an 11-month old baby, was rescued by helicopter last week north of Durango after the parents became fearful they were being stalked by two mountain lions.

The rescue occurred Sept. 28 in the Purgatory Flats area east of Purgatory Resort.

The mother became “panicked” and called 911 after seeing the mountain lions move through the trees, said Ron Corkish, president of La Plata County Search and Rescue.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever had those encounters, but it’s life-changing,” Corkish said. “When you just see them going through the trees, and just see them periodically and one is looking at you, and then there’s another one ... .”

Corkish said it would have taken at least two hours for search and rescue members and Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials to reach the family’s location. A helicopter, however, could be dispatched and at the scene in less than half that time, he said.

Based on the level of fear being experienced by the family, which was being passed on to the 11-month-old daughter, Corkish said he didn’t have it in him to tell the family they would have to wait for two hours.

Instead, he called Flight For Life to see if it was available and willing to assist with a rescue mission.

The flight crew was available and launched, he said.

“Based on the urgency, based on her level of fear, based on an 11-month-old infant ... we decided that we needed to have them extricated sooner than later,” Corkish said. “I could tell that she (the mother) was highly agitated and anxious.”

The family, from Texas, told Denver7 news they stayed in a meadow waving sticks and bushes in an effort to keep the mountain lions at bay. The helicopter landed near the family, and the mother and child boarded the craft. Because of space restrictions, one flight crew member stayed behind with the husband while the mother and child were flown to the Gelande parking lot at Purgatory Resort, Corkish said.

The flight crew member who stayed behind also reported seeing the mountain lions, Corkish said.

The helicopter made a return trip and picked up the father and flight crew member, he said.

It took only 52 minutes to dispatch the helicopter and have the mother and child brought to safety, he said.

Corkish said the circumstances were a little unusual, and people shouldn’t come to expect Flight For Life will rescue them if they feel threatened by mountain lions while recreating outdoors.

“From our standpoint, it’s a little bit outside the box, and we certainly wouldn’t want people to think that’s the norm – that Flight For Life is going to be able to do that all the time. I think the 11-month-old infant played into the decision-making.”

Based on descriptions provided to wildlife officers, CPW does not believe the mountain lions showed predatory or protective behaviors, said spokesman John Livingston.

One lion reportedly made calls, and shortly thereafter, a smaller lion appeared, he said.

“That leads us to believe it was a mom with a yearling,” he said.

The incident was recorded as a “sighting” by CPW.

shane@durangoherald.com

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