A hunter is reportedly stranded in the middle of the swamp in the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. He called dispatch on his mobile phone seeking help and they used GPS to track his position. "He's obviously cold," and not injured, but possibly has hypothermia. The man, whose vehicle has out-of-state license plates, shot a deer and tracked it well into the swamp. He has fallen down in the swamp several times and is now chest-deep in icy water. Rescuers are staging at 968 Casey Road. Alabama Fire Department and Mercy medics are responding, along with reps from the Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Forest Service. Mercy Flight is on ground standby.
UPDATE 2:36 p.m.: The State Police helicopter is available if needed.
UPDATE 2:37 p.m.: The hunter has been tracked to "smack dab in the middle" of two large bodies of water between Casey and Feeder roads. An ATV is at the rescuers' disposal, too.
UPDATE 2:43 p.m.: "I have a group of guys going in there on foot," says the Alabama fire chief. A crew from Lyndonville is requested to fill in at Alabama Station #2.
UPDATE 2:48 p.m.: Command says "Do you still have phone contact with him? Ask him to fire off one round into the air so we've got a bearing." The dispatcher replies "I'll see if he's got a whistle. ... The firearm is frozen to the point that he can't even unload it."
UPDATE 2:55 p.m.: Command says "He tells dispatch he can hear something, so maybe you guys are close." They want dispatch to ask the victim "to ping his cell" -- and/or a crew member's 9-1-1 call -- so they can see if indeed they are getting close. The crew on foot has spotted fresh boot prints on the ground. The original ATV is out of commission but two more are headed to the scene. Alexander Fire Department is assembling in its hall for possible deployment of its Gator.
UPDATE 3:01 p.m.: The State Police Helicopter has been deployed and rescuers "have a visual on it." It is hovering just west of command. The foot crew of four firefighters is northward, in the woods west of the area between two ponds where they can now see the victim. Also, a family member of the victim is on scene.
UPDATE 3:15 p.m.: "We are about 80 yards away from him, we are working our way across the swamp toward him," says a member of the foot crew. Another responder asks "Is he conscious?" The reply is that he is upright. The State Police helicopter pilot says heavy lake effect show is moving in from the Northwest and he won't be able to stay in place for much longer. The visibility is very low and, besides, he could see no place to land. He provides rescuers with the exact geographic coordinates of the victim's position. A crew member reports there is solid ice around there, and they are slogging through three feet of water, and the Gator probably can't get back there. So the hovercraft from Clarence Center is called for and stand-by crews from Clarenden and Shelby.
UPDATE 3:22 p.m.: Foot crew members are going to be sent back. The State Police helicopter has gone back to the hangar. Command says they have both the pilot's coordinates and compass coordinates, but it's difficult to discern where access paths may be. A crew member said they have so far gone 300 yards in knee-deep water and doubt that ATVs could be useful in that terrain. They await the hovercraft from Clarence Center.
UPDATE 3:32 p.m.: "Command, he's 100 yards in front of us. He's in four feet of water."
UPDATE 3:35 p.m.: It's sounding as though the foot crew members may be in jeopardy. "We're depending on the hovercraft at this point." The ATVs won't be useful. The crew members are in three feet of water and the path, and others, are not clearly discernable. They want to see if they can get the State Police helicopter back to try and better pinpoint their location at this time for rescuers to be able to find the foot crew. But command says the weather, which prompted the helicopter to leave, is likely to prevent it from responding to the scene a second time.
UPDATE 3:41 p.m.: The helicopter, with zero visibility, cannot fly. A foot crew member says "We're east of (the victim). We're trying to find higher ground. We're surrounded by water." A person says to look for a path to the east and the crew member responds "We followed the path to the east all the way here," and it apparently can no longer be clearly seen. The hovercraft and the Clarence Center crew are at the ready, preparing to enter the swamp. A rescuer says the victim "is trying to work his way to us," and they are going to set up a rehab area in the vicinity.
UPDATE 3:50 p.m.: "We're on an island in the middle of water," says a foot crew member. It is announced that a patch of landing space to the west may be a possibility if Mercy Flight is needed and is able to fly. It remains on standby.
UPDATE 3:54 p.m.: Command tells the now-stranded foot crew that the hovercraft crew of four, fully suited, is going to trek in and try to retrace the tracks and locate an access point for the hovercraft.
UPDATE 4:02 p.m.: The lost hunter and members of the foot crew have met up. The hunter "has cold hands" but otherwise seems OK. They are going to remain stationary and try to stay warm. Someone has hot packs now on his feet. One of the men is going to the edge of "the island" to try and get a visual on the rescuers looking for them.
UPDATE 4:07 p.m.: Dispatch says the Forest Service is on the way, with an ETA of two hours. A responder says "Could you repeat that? The hovercraft just went zipping by."
UPDATE 4:09 p.m.: "The hovercraft is in the middle of the pond headed your way."
UPDATE 4:13 p.m.: There is some confusion. The hovercraft is said to be in the wrong pond. But someone says that its location is in sync with the coordinates provided.
UPDATE 4:16 p.m.: They have definately found a path to the stranded men. They just need "to make a plan" to get the hovercraft to them.
UPDATE 4:21 p.m.: "We're having some issues with the hovercraft. Is it possible to walk out?" "No, that's not possible. We walked through waist-deep water to get here." Several hunters are seen walking in the area, and someone asks if perhaps their location may provide an access point.
UPDATE 4:31 p.m.: It is determined that the Clarence Center hovercraft will not be able to do the job. "But we'll need a hovercraft of some kind." "Can a boat get in there?" "There's a land mass between two bodies of water."
UPDATE 4:35 p.m.: Dispatchers are contacting Erie County and the State Police, again, for aerial aid.
UPDATE 4:36 p.m.: Meanwhile, they are going to try to re-deploy the hovercraft from Clarence Center and the men are asked to listen for it. All they can do is try to stay warm and wait.
UPDATE 4:50 p.m.: The hovercraft is not going to work. "We're going to have to go with another plan." A total of five men, including the victim, need to be rescued and they are in two separate locations.
UPDATE 5:03 p.m. Concern at the scene grows as it is nearly dark and the weather is expected to get colder. A plan involving a helicopter is under way.
UPDATE 5:06 p.m.: "We're are going to send in a team for you two and then airlift the other three," command tells a stranded firefighter. "We'll sit tight," is the reply.
UPDATE 5:11 p.m.: A helicopter from Erie County is on the way with a 10-minute ETA.
UPDATE 5:14 p.m.: A water rescue team is going to attempt to extricate the pair of men in one of the locations. The helicopter and its crew will try to get the others. The pilot asks what the condition is at the scene. There's "a few flakes in the air," but otherwise it looks good.
UPDATE 5:22 p.m.: All available manpower from Alabama Fire Department is requested to the scene's command post at Lewiston and Casey roads.
UPDATE 5:27 p.m.: "Make sure a landing zone is clearly marked in case they have to land quickly."
UPDATE 5:29 p.m.: "We're hovering above but there are so many lights shining, we can't see where the victims are," says the pilot. The responders on the ground are told to shut off all lights except in the two locations were the stranded parties are.
UPDATE 5:34 p.m.: The Erie County helicopter is hovering over the ice and "will lower the basket down for the victim." A firefighter who is with the victim has a dead radio and it's not known whether they can contact him via mobile phone to let him know about the basket drop.
UPDATE 5:40 p.m.: Dispatch is in phone contact with the firefighter who is with the victim and will remain in contact with him until the victim has been extricated.
UPDATE 5:44 p.m.: Dispatch is communicating now with the State Police helicopter pilot who is appearantly going to be able to return to the incident. The pilot asks about the location and is told "same spot as before but now the rescuers need rescuing." Meanwhile, the other helicopter pilot is asked whether the victim's firearm can be put aboard the helicopter with him or "will it have to be walked out?" The answer is pending.
UPDATE 5:53 p.m.: One issue has been getting wetsuits (for protecting from hypothermia) for at least two individuals needing rescue, as well as those who will be trying to get the wetsuits to them.
UPDATE 6:02 p.m.: The men who were to be led out by the water rescue team are now being told they will be airlifted out. The process in either of the victims' locations is done one person at a time, thus multiple trips by the helicopter(s).
UPDATE 6:47 p.m.: "OK we're coming out. Everyone's accounted for."
UPDATE 6:59 p.m.: "Alabama command -- all the men and equipment are accounted for. We're out."
UPDATE 7:43 p.m.: All responders are back in service. The Alabama assignment is concluded.