Family Programs
Colorado Army National Guard discovers, recovers bodies of missing hikers 
By Colorado National Guard Public Affairs 
UH-60 Black Hawk 
A UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from the High-altitude ARNG Aviation Training Site (HAATS) based in Gypsum, Colo., lands on a peak to drop off Chaffee County search and rescue personnel.(U.S. Army photo by Col. Joel Best/RELEASED)
Tuesday, July 5, 2011 

Air Force Maj. Elena O’Bryan

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (7/5/11) – A Colorado Army National Guard helicopter aircrew located two bodies on Missouri Mountain, Colo., at approximately 9:30 a.m. Saturday while assisting the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office search for a missing father and daughter. 

While flying a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter along a ridgeline after transporting search and rescue personnel to a landing zone on the mountain, Col. Joel Best and Maj. Josh Day saw a body in a snowfield.  

The aircrew picked up ground search team members and transported them closer to the body which was at an elevation of 12,000 feet approximately 500 feet above the main trail.  The aircrew then noticed a second body approximately 200 yards above the first and directed the searchers to that location.  

The COARNG helicopter airlifted the bodies to the field command post where they were transferred to the custody of the county coroner who identified them as Robert Michael Von Gortler, 53, and Makana Von Gortler, 20, both of Boulder, reported missing June 28.   

The Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office notified their family.  

The investigation into their deaths is continuing and is not expected to be completed for several days, said Chaffee County officials. 

Colorado Guardsman Sgt. Sean Browning was also among the aircrew. They are based at the High-altitude ARNG Aviation Training Site (HAATS) in Gypsum, Colo. 

“The extraordinary assistance provided by the pilots and crews of the aircraft participating in the search was crucial to the operation,” said Chaffee County Sheriff Pete Palmer. 

The search area was located on the outer edge of the HAATS training area. 

Earlier in the week, one OH-58 Kiowa helicopter, piloted by two instructor pilots from HAATS, also assisted search crews by conducting aerial observation in hard to reach areas. 

The Blackhawk crew meanwhile transported search and rescue personnel and dogs to drainages and slopes on Missouri Mountain, Mount Balfour, and Mount Oxford. The aircrew’s highest landing was at an elevation of 14,000 feet. 

The search, which began June 29, continued daily despite weather conditions involving rain, snow, and hail producing poor visibility.   

“It’s comfortable to fly with Soldiers experienced at managing power amidst the winds and weather in our backyard,” said Best, HAATS commander.  

Best said the aircrews even contended with 40 miles per hour winds. 

Palmer said the search involved approximately 180 volunteers from 18 search and rescue teams from across the state, many expert in mountain rescue. 

HAATS performs a critical mission providing life-saving combat skills to American pilots serving in mountainous Afghanistan.  The unit also assists civil authorities with search and rescues in Colorado’s high country.  

HAATS is located between Vail and Glenwood Springs, Colo.  

The school trains military rotary-wing pilots from around the world in Power Management, which gives pilots the knowledge and confidence to operate their aircraft routinely and safely at maximum gross weights in any environment and especially at high altitudes in a power-limited environment. 

Rescue efforts are coordinated through the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, which notifies the Colorado National Guard’s Joint Operations Center in Centennial, Colo.  The AFRCC ties into the Federal Aviation Administration’s alerting system and the U.S. Mission Control Center. 

For more information about the search, contact Chaffee County Sheriff Pete Palmer at 719-207-3264. 


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