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Cover photo by Rod Hanna

Rescue Operations Dec. 4, 1978



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Illustration by Richard Smith

Crash site at Buffalo Pass



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Photo courtesy of Dennis Heap

Rocky Mountain Airways Twin Otter




600 dpi RMA boarding

Photo courtesy of Dennis Heap

Twin Otter with ski pod



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Photo courtesy of Dennis Heap

Forward bag bin



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Photo by Harrison Jones

Grizzly Creek Ranger Station Oct. 2016




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Photo courtesy of Dave Lindow

Dave Lindow’s snow cat

Dave Lindow learned about the crash when he saw the evening news in Steamboat Springs. He immediately went to the Rout County sheriff and volunteered himself and the snow cat for the search and rescue effort. Dave and Ed Duncan loaded the snow cat on a flatbed trailer and hauled it over Rabbit Ears Pass, in blizzard conditions, in order to reach the search area. Dave, along with Jerry Alsum, Don Niekerk, and Steve Poulson were the first to arrive at the crash site. Other snow cats eventually arrived to help evacuate the survivors, but Dave had the only fully enclosed snow cat. The others had open beds like a pickup truck.  



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Photo courtesy of Don Niekerk

Jim Alsum demonstrates the use of the L-Per direction finding unit used in the search and rescue for Flight 217. Jim was involved in more than 300 search and rescue missions over a span of thirty-two years. He served the Civil Air Patrol as emergency services director, mission pilot, and counter drug officer.




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Photo by Rod Hanna

When the rescue teams arrived, they found the airplane lying on its right side and almost buried in the snow. The heavily damaged nose area and cockpit are to the left. The passenger entrance door and baggage compartment door are to the right with the transmission tower in the background. Both wings are broken off and covered in snow. The left main landing gear is intact and visible at the center of the photo. The initial rescue team found First Officer Gary Coleman still trapped in the cockpit by wreckage and impacted snow and ice. Using a length of scrap metal found in Dave Lindow’s snow cat, they were able to dig him out and prepare him for transport. The rescue personnel at the rear of the airplane were working in waist deep snow.  



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Photo by Rod Hanna

Passenger Luann Mercer was evacuated through the emergency exit window by Civil Air Patrol team member Jerry Alsum. Jerry is the gentleman on the left in the photo with Luann’s right arm around his shoulder. Jerry and the rescue team carried Luann to the snow cat for transport to Grizzly Station where Doctor Larry Bookman had established a field hospital and triage center. Luann would be taken by ambulance to the hospital in Kremmling and eventually transferred to Swedish Medical Center in Denver. Her fiancé, Jeff, was being treated at St. Anthony in Denver and they would not see each other until Luann was released two weeks later. The amount of accumulated snow can be seen on the fuselage aft of the window exit. The rescue team in the background removed the critically injured passengers from the baggage compartment, including the captain, Scott Klopfenstein.



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Photo by Rod Hanna

This passenger is being transported in a down casualty bag and has been administered an IV. The IV fluids froze after a short time.




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Photo by Rod Hanna

Rescue workers preparing to evacuate injured survivors through the passenger entrance door. The evacuation began in the pre-dawn hours when Dave Lindow and the initial rescue team located the crash site. As seen in this photo, the rescue operation continued long after sunrise when additional snow cats arrived to continue the evacuation. The snowfall decreased as the morning progressed; however, the rescue workers were still hampered by waist deep snow around the wreckage. The crash site was located approximately thirteen miles from the Grizzly Creek Ranger Station where the Civil Air Patrol team had set up a base camp to conduct the rescue. Snow cat operators navigated the treacherous terrain in order to reach the scene and then transport the survivors to the triage area at the base camp.



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Photo by Rod Hanna

Once the initial rescue team found the airplane, many other volunteers arrived in snow cats and snowmobiles to assist with the rescue. The additional snow cats were able to follow the trail blazed by Dave Lindow’s tracks until they neared the Pass where heavy snow and wind had covered them. Dave met them on his first trip down the mountain and directed them to the crash site. The deep snow made tough going for the snowmobiles unless they drove in the tracks made by the heavier equipment. In this photo, the fuselage is almost covered in snow but the tail of the airplane can be seen to the left with the nose and cockpit area to the right. Fortunately, the airplane came to rest on its right side leaving the passenger entrance door and the baggage compartment door on top and available to be opened for evacuation.





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Photo by Rod Hanna

Rescue workers battled the weather conditions to evacuate passengers and move them to the snow cats seen in the background forward of the airplane. The power lines can be seen above. Rod Hanna took this photo standing at the tail of the airplane looking forward. The vertical stabilizer is actually slanted to the right in the photo with the airplane lying on its right side. Rod was the Director of Public Relations for the Steamboat Ski Resort and arrived at the scene with the Ski Corp snow cats used in the rescue. His photos were picked up by the national wire services and transmitted to newspapers worldwide. The freezing temperatures actually helped control bleeding for the injured passengers, but it became an issue as they warmed up on the trip down the mountain. Each snow cat was assigned an EMT to treat those patients until reaching the field unit at Grizzly Station.



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Photo by Rod Hanna

Rescuers tried not to slip and fall in the snow while carrying a passenger to the snow cat. Most of the rescue personnel had been awake for over twenty-four hours and battled fatigue as well as the frigid temperature and deep snow. This photo was taken from forward of the aircraft looking aft. The open baggage compartment door can be seen at the top center with other rescue workers still taking passengers out and rendering medical treatment before preparing them for transport. After being placed in casualty bags for warmth and loaded on a stretcher, the passengers were carried around the tail of the airplane and then brought forward to the snow cat staging area. The task was not easy because the wings, engines, and other parts of the airplane had been covered by the heavy snowfall during the night and were now hidden from view.




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Photo by Rod Hanna

A passenger is being strapped to the back of an open snow cat for transport to Grizzly Guard Station. An EMT rode on the back to care for the patients during the long trip down the mountain. The Ski Corp snow cats were normally used to groom the ski slopes at the Steamboat Resort and only the forward cab was enclosed. When the resort learned of the crash, they did not hesitate to send the Ski Corp snow cats and their employees to aid the rescue effort. Bob Werner, Rod Hanna, Gary Kline, Ed Andrews, and Ben Kemmer transported the snow cats to the base camp at Grizzly and were instrumental in saving lives.



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Photo courtesy of Don Niekerk

Passengers Maureen Redmond Smith and Matt Kotts at the thirty-year reunion in 2008




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Photo Courtesy of Don Niekerk

In 2008, the Civil Air Patrol team revisited the remote crash site and discovered the steel bar used to extricate Gary Coleman from the impacted ice of the cockpit. It was lying where they dropped it beside the mangled cockpit thirty years before. The makeshift tool was subsequently lost during the hike back to civilization, but fortunately, Don Niekerk had snapped a photo of the steel bar where it was found.




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Photo courtesy of Don Niekerk

The right wingtip of RMA 217 photographed as it was found by Civil Air Patrol members on Buffalo Pass in 2008. They were able to pack the wingtip out of the remote area and contribute it to be displayed at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Denver.



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Photo courtesy of Dennis Heap

The Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum exhibit features Luann Mercer’s wedding dress.




web 20Photo courtesy of Dennis Heap

The Museum exhibit also displays aircraft wreckage recovered by the Civil Air Patrol rescue team as well as the metal frame of Matt Kotts’ baby stroller.





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