Authorities on Monday released the name of a Louisiana woman who has been missing for five days after she was swept away in a high-alpine creek while Jeep touring in the backcountry outside Silverton.
Hinsdale County spokeswoman Sandy Hines said search and rescue crews on Monday continue to scour an eight-mile area along the banks of Pole Creek to the Rio Grande, and farther on toward the Rio Grande Reservoir, using both ground patrols and aerial surveys with a drone.
The missing woman has been identified as Tessie Strickland, 64, of Kentwood, Louisiana.
Strickland and her husband, Tommy, were staying in Silverton and planned to spend last Thursday in Creede. They took Forest Service Road 520 (Stony Pass) and crossed through Pole Creek in their Jeep in the morning.
The couple returned in the early evening and attempted to cross the creek again. However, the stream had risen from snowmelt throughout the day.
According to Tommy, the couple’s Jeep stalled in the creek and was swept downstream. As the vehicle began to fill with water, Tommy told authorities the couple climbed onto the roof.
“With no one around to provide assistance, (Tommy) said they decided the best course of action was to jump from the vehicle and try to reach the shore,” Hines said.
The couple were both taken downstream. Tommy tried unsuccessfully to help Tessie reach the shore. Tommy reached the shore, but Tessie was unable to, and she has not been seen since.
Tommy then found a passersby who took him to Silverton where he alerted authorities.
Around 8:30 p.m. Thursday, authorities received the report of the incident, and immediately began search and rescue operations. Hines said emergency personnel plan to bring in additional resources to aid the search this week.
So far, more than 25 emergency personnel have been involved in the search, with additional assistance by a helicopter from the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to Mr. Strickland and his family as they go through this incredibly difficult time,” Hinsdale County Sheriff Justin Casey said in a prepared statement.
Stony Pass is a popular high-alpine route, primarily used by Jeeps and off-road vehicles, that requires crossing Pole Creek. Passage at Pole Creek is now closed until further notice.
In the high country, streams are typically lower in the morning hours and able to be crossed by vehicles, but rise as snow melts throughout the day and then become impassable.
Rising streams in the high country is a mounting issue as temperatures rise throughout Southwest Colorado.
Brad Graves, a fire chief with the St. Helena Fire Department in Louisiana, identified the couple as Tommy and Tessie Strickland. Tommy, he said, is chief for the St. Helena 6th Ward Volunteer Fire Department.
Tommy is recovering in Silverton, surrounded by family, he said, as the search continues for Tessie.
“They take frequent Jeep trips all around the country,” Graves said. “We’re trying to leave him in peace right now.”