A search and rescue mission for a missing man was postponed Wednesday because of a flood watch posing hazardous weather conditions in the San Juan Mountains.
Daniel Lamthach, 22, of Salt Lake City, had been missing for 12 days as of Thursday, according to a news release issued by the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management.
Lamthach is described as having long black hair, being about 5 feet 4 inches tall, weighing 130 pounds and wearing glasses.
A concerned friend of his reported his absence to the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office on July 21. On July 17, the last time Lamthach was seen, he had decided to go on a day hike, although he was unprepared for an overnight stay in the wilderness, according to the news release.
“... As the friend was leaving Silverton Sunday evening, he identified Daniel’s car in the Molas Lake Trailhead parking lot and, of course, thought, ‘Yay, he went on his trail run,’” said Deanne Gallegos, spokeswoman for San Juan County Office of Emergency Management. “There were no red flags at that time.”
Lamthach’s vehicle was the first sign of the man the Sheriff’s Office found after he had been reported missing, she said.
Just a few days earlier, on July 18, hikers found a cellphone on the Elk Creek Trail at the Vestal Peak trail confluence, about 3½ miles from the Animas River, that was later determined to belong to Lamthach, she said.
Search and rescue crews have been working in the Trinity Peaks area, “one of the most remote and rugged backcountry wilderness terrain (areas) within the San Juans,” Gallegos said.
The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control has logged 250 personnel hours and 12 hours of dedicated flight time during the search. Local emergency personnel have committed 600 personnel hours in addition to nine hours of dedicated flight time by Flight For Life, according to the Wednesday news release.
About 11 organizations or teams are participating in the search.
“Even on a good day it is incredibly challenging terrain,” Gallegos said. “We have put our best of the best backcountry mountaineer-type of SAR members to navigate that terrain.”
Over the last eight days, search and rescue crews have been hit with severe thunderstorms, hail and winds. A mudslide occurred on Red Mountain Pass on Tuesday that blocked U.S. Highway 550 north of Silverton.
“The No. 1 things we are concerned about are lightning and lightning strikes, flash floods and getting our SAR crews in and out of a search area. Safety is always of the utmost importance,” she said.
Gallegos said rescue crews might head out again Friday if weather allows. When crews hit the “reset button” to resume their search after the weather clears, smaller crews will be hiking in and out of “very rugged, hard-to-get-to, remote regions of the search area.”
Those efforts can only be carried out on the ground, she said.
In coming days, crews plan to access some of the more remote drainages via the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
Tyler George, director of operations for Silverton Medical Rescue, said he extends his condolences to Lamthach’s family.
“We have had to suspend operations due to severe weather and the danger it presents to our teams,” he said in the release. “I would also like to thank Flight For Life, specifically Lifeguard 5, out of Durango, the Grizzly Peak Fire Team, the District Helitack Team, CSAR, La Plata County Search & Rescue, and all of the resources used and offered by surrounding agencies.”
He said he commends the efforts of search teams on the ground who have hiked out and camped out overnight to make the most of their search efforts while in the wilderness.
“We are privileged to have some of the finest mountain rescue technicians in the state, and without their skill, expertise and dedication, we would not have been able to even approach the area due to the conditions and terrain,” he said.
San Juan County Undersheriff Steve Lowrance said in the news release that while individual members of the public might feel moved to aid in search and rescue efforts, uncoordinated search operations can do more harm than good.
“Please allow the local emergency teams to manage such operations as they have the skill sets to do so,” he said.