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Hiker lost in Beartooth Mountains likely dead, say family and rescuers
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Hiker lost in Beartooth Mountains likely dead, say family and rescuers

Rescuers searching for a lost hiker in the Beartooth Mountains believe the young woman is not alive.

Tatum Morell, a 23-year-old Montana State University student from Idaho, was an experienced backcountry hiker and had planned to summit five peaks over 12,000 feet from a base camp in the West Fork of the Rock Creek drainage.

She last spoke with her mother July 1 through a Garmin InReach satellite communicator. It is believed that she left her tent at Shadow Lake the next morning and never returned.

After nearly a week of intense search efforts in the mountains near Red Lodge, rescuers now believe it is unlikely she survived, Red Lodge Fire Rescue said in a statement Saturday evening.

While Tatum was not due to return from her trip until last Monday, July 5th, search managers determined that she left her tent on Friday morning, July 2nd to summit a 12,000 foot peak.

“It is believed that Tatum had a tragic accident and was unable to activate her inReach device,” Red Lodge Fire Rescue said.

In a video statement, Tatum’s family said, “Tate was a fiercely independent, adventurous soul who loved the mountains. We find some solace in knowing she passed in a place she loved.” The family statement, recorded in Red Lodge, included Tatum’s brother Josh, and their parents Kathy and Matt Morell.

Josh said, “Some people may wonder why my sister was out there by herself. I don’t think that is the right thing to ask. She was out there because she’s a strong adventurous, independent person. She loved being out in the places where she was at.

“There wasn’t anything necessarily that she did wrong,” he continued. “It was just an accident, and accidents happen.”

Red Lodge Fire Rescue and the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office will continue search efforts on a limited but continuous basis for the foreseeable future. There will be limited area searches by trained rescuers, investigation of specific identified targets, and periodic searches by search dog teams.

Mountain rescue teams, search dog teams, and ground search teams have put hundreds of rescue hours into searching the area, including searching all possible routes, mountain peaks, ridges, as well as the area around her tent, the statement continued.

Efforts included multiple aerial searches by Red Lodge Fire Rescue, the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s office, Two Bear Air, the Army National Guard, and Gallatin County SAR. In addition to ground and air searching, the rescuers used multiple high resolution visual and infrared cameras, cell phone tracking, and Recco technologies. Tatum’s family has been in the area providing detailed information to search managers.

The challenging search area contains countless rock fields, car-sized boulders, scree fields, and snowfields. Searching the area requires technical experience and advanced backcountry knowledge. The size of the search area and the difficulty of the terrain makes searching extremely dangerous, rescuers said.

“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."

Based on the conditions, terrain, search effort, and the time she has been missing, her family, Red Lodge Search and Rescue, and the Carbon County Sheriff’s office believe it is not likely she survived. “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, the Carbon County Sheriff's office, and Red Lodge Fire Rescue appreciate all of the efforts of the supporting agencies and organizations: Yellowstone County Sheriff, Gallatin County SAR, Park County Wyo. SAR, Big Horn County SAR, the US Forest Service, the Army National Guard, Montana FWP, Palisades Ranches, Jackson Hole Search Dogs, Absaroka Search Dogs, Western Montana Search Dogs, Coconino County Sheriff's Office, Gallatin County Sheriff's Office, MSU Police, Garmin InReach, Gaia GPS, the many people who volunteered time to search and support the effort and the many people who have offered their assistance.

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 redlodgefire.com.

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