Rescuers believe lost hiker, Morell, has not survived  but continue searching

Thursday, July 15, 2021
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The routes SAR personnel have tried during their search.

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Courtesy photos
SAR personnel search for missing hiker Tatum Morell in the West Fork of Rock Creek near Red Lodge.

After nearly a week of intense search efforts for missing hiker Tatum Morell in the mountains near Red Lodge, rescuers now believe it is unlikely she is still alive. However the search for Morell continues on with aerial and dog teams concentrating on specific identified targets. 

On Tuesday, the Two Bear Air SAR helicopter flew over the area to investigate sites of interest identified by analysis of high-resolution imagery taken during the search looking for colors or objects not consistent with the surrounding landscape. 

This Friday through Sunday, 4 dog teams will stay in the area to conduct additional searches for human scent. The dog teams request, if possible, the public avoid the area of Marker and Ship Lakes and the eastern faces of Sundance and Bowback mountains while the dogs are working. 

The search area contains countless rock fields, car-sized boulders, scree fields, and snowfields and some areas require technical experience and advanced backcountry knowledge. The size of the search area and the difficulty of the terrain makes searching extremely dangerous to rescuers. 

Morell was an avid and experienced hiker who planned to climb 5 mountain peaks over 12,000’ in the West Fork of Rock Creek near Red Lodge.  She backpacked into the area, camped at Shadow Lake on Thursday, July 1, and contacted her family via an InReach satellite communicator that evening. This is the last communication anyone has had from her. It is believed that she left her tent on July 2 and didn’t return. Rescuers have been searching the area since July 5.

Hope was centered on Morell’s InReach Satellite communicator that can send messages and track locations even if the GPS signal is lost. 

“The most important feature (on an inReach) is the SOS button. So, they all have an SOS button so even if my phone is not working, and I am not able to send a message out I can press that SOS and that will start a whole process. That goes out to a call center at Garmin and then based on the account that I have set up it will contact local search and rescue and my emergency contacts,” says Amy Hyfield, the public information officer for Red Lodge Fire Rescue.

“We’ve worked with Garmin to try and get all of the track information. She did send a message on Thursday evening (July 1) to her mother. When the messages go out, they send a location and then apparently she turned it off, it could be that the battery died,” says Hyfield.

Rescue efforts have also included: Cell phone “pings”; Information searches on her personal accounts; Mountain rescue teams; Search dog teams; Ground search teams; Aerial searches by Red Lodge Fire Rescue (visual); Yellowstone County Sheriff’s office (visual); Gallatin County SAR (visual); Two Bear Air, (visual, infrared, Recco, cell phone tracking) and Army National Guard (high resolution visual and infrared cameras).

“Unfortunately, there are hundreds of thousands of places that Tate could have gotten into trouble on these rugged mountains when the storms came into the area on Friday”, said Incident commander Tom Kuntz. “After the extensive search efforts, we do not believe she survived”

Tatum’s family adds, “Tate was a fiercely independent, adventurous soul who loved the mountains. We find some solace in knowing she passed in a place she loved.”

“I am impressed with the outstanding commitment of all the volunteers on this search operation. Every search technique and technical capability was utilized.” said Josh McQuillan, Carbon County Sheriff. “We had support from local, state, regional and federal resources.

The family asks that people who wish to help in search efforts or commemorate Tatum’s life please make donations in her honor to Red Lodge Fire Rescue at