ROCHFORD, S.D. (KELO) — Recovery continues for two men who were rescued after going missing while snowmobiling at the beginning of March.
John Hopkins is a volunteer firefighter in Rochford, South Dakota, and is organizing a silent auction to help Leon Clinegartner and Jeff Willett who went missing on March 7. The two 73-year-old men had gone out Tuesday morning to snowmobile near Rochford. Later in the day, their wives reported them as missing.
“Well, the biggest problem right off the bat is Rochford Volunteer Fire Department has no snowmobiles. We have no capability to go out and trails,” Hopkins explained.
That’s when additional crews were called in from Lead and Pennington County to aid in the search. Hopkins recalls the bitter cold temperatures overnight and the worry that the search would be a recovery rather than a rescue.
Rochford is a small, unincorporated area in the Black Hills with a population of eight, according to Hopkins. Despite how small the community is, the search turned out more than 200 personnel from various agencies in the Black Hills.
“There were dozens and dozens of them. There were people on snowmobiles and there were people in the air,” Hopkins said.
A little over 24 hours after the pair went missing, both were found alive and transported to a nearby hospital. Hopkins said that Clinegartner was able to walk away in relatively good shape while Willett had a few complications.
“He wasn’t generating the body heat needed to keep going and he wound up with really bad frostbite in both feet,” Hopkins said. “The initial concern was that he would lose both feet. Current status is we know he’s losing all his toes and they’re hoping to save his feet.”
Willett is currently at a hospital in Aurora, Colorado.
Clinegartner may also have a few toes removed as well, Hopkins added.
Despite the scary nature of the situation, Hopkins said Willett has been in relatively good spirits as he recovers.
“When Jeff came out of the hospital in Spearfish, he was still wearing his snowmobiling clothes and hobbling around. His wife and son picked him up and said, ‘What can we do? What do you need, you know, what do you want to do now?’ He said, ‘I want a beer,'” Hopkins said.
After arriving at the store, the cashier gave Jeff an odd look and picked up a piece of paper.
“[She] looks at that and looks at him. She says, ‘You’re supposed to be missing!’ And Jeff says, ‘No, I’m found,'” Hopkins laughed.
To aid the recovery of the two men, Hopkins is organizing a silent auction on April 16 with 100 percent of the proceeds going to Clinegartner and Willett. The event will include live music, food and drinks. Some of the items being auctioned include a quilt made up of the t-shirts of fire departments all over the world, photos of fires donated by a one of the men that aided in search and rescue, free UTV rentals, a dozen eggs a week for a year and more.
“I guess any help, any at all help would be appreciated. Coming out here and looking at buying the stuff or you know, whatever. The guys need it,” Hopkins said.
For those unable to attend the silent auction, Hopkins said that cash donations are appreciated and can be made to the Rochford Volunteer Fire Department.