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Man, 3 children found safe by other hikers

Family brought to Pine River trailhead

As darkness fell and a thunderstorm moved into the Weminuche Wilderness on Monday, a Bayfield man and his three children, last seen Saturday, were brought by other hikers to safety.

It was a happy ending after more than 25 people spent the day searching for the family on the ground and from the air, a search that had yielded little – a few footprints that couldn’t be positively connected to the family, the smell of a campfire. Those searchers had returned to the command post, to be replaced by some night-trained searchers, who were expected to work through the night

Ambulances and paramedics from Upper Pine Fire Protection District were en route about 8:40 p.m. to give checkups to Dustin Beaver, 33, and his three children to make sure everyone is OK, La Plata County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Dan Bender said.

Authorities were notified about 10:15 p.m. Sunday by Beaver’s wife that her husband and their children, 8-year-old twins – a boy and girl – and a 6-year-old boy, had not returned from a day hike Saturday.

Beaver’s car remained parked at the Cave Basin trailhead, with a note from his wife on the windshield, on Monday afternoon. A few hikers recalled seeing Beaver and his children on Saturday. Beaver had signed in at the trailhead and started hiking about 11:20 a.m. Saturday.

The last known sighting was about 3 p.m. Saturday when the group was about halfway to Dollar Lake on the planned day hike. Beaver’s cellphone last pinged around 6:15 p.m. Saturday near Vallecito.

“In this weather, folks will be uncomfortable but it’s certainly survivable,” Dan Long, communications team leader for La Plata County Search and Rescue, said Monday evening as rain fell.

Saturday and Sunday nights were clear in the area, with temperatures in the mid-40s, according to searchers and the National Weather Service.

The family was reported to have Osprey packs, but were dressed primarily in shorts and T-shirts and did not have sleeping bags or other overnight gear. Beaver was described as an experienced camper.

The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office put out a call for a search helicopter with infrared and other night sensors late Monday afternoon as searchers feared the quest would extend past dusk. They expected an Air Force helicopter with night vision capability from Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, Monday night, with the possibility of additional helicopters later Monday and Tuesday morning. But they were not needed.

“For decades, the military has been very helpful and saved many, many lives,” said Dan Bender, Sheriff’s Office spokesman, “including the Air Force and the Coast Guard, helping to find lost civilians. Since the 1980s, we have been able to get military help for searches and rescues.”

Search leaders were reviewing information gathered Monday and preparing to redeploy search teams on Tuesday morning when news arrived that the family had been found.

Ron Corkish, of La Plata County Search and Rescue, the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, Upper Pine Fire Protection District, Flight for Life and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad helicopter were involved on Monday. A K-9 unit was also used.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

The captions with this story have been updated to correct Matt King’s first name.

Nov 30, 2021
Searchers credit father for keeping kids safe during Weminuche trek
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