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MDNR releases more details of Porkies rescue of snowmobilers


Submitted photo

BENJAMIN M. JENNEY, 40, and his son, Benjamin M. Jenney Jr., 19, from Albertville, Minn., survived a night in a blizzard near the Porcupine Mountains. They are shown in a Fox TV-6 Marquette photo in a hospital room after the ordeal.

SILVER CITY - More details have been released concerning the dramatic Monday afternoon rescue of two snowmobilers in blizzard conditions near the Porcupine Mountains.

Michigan State Police earlier noted Benjamin M. Jenney, 40, and Benjamin M. Jenney Jr., 19, a father and son from Albertville, Minn., were found about two miles from the nearest road.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday released the names of the people who rescued the snowmobilers after they were reported missing in the back country near the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park for more than 24 hours in sub-zero temperatures.

It's a wilderness type area, with no homes and a few hunting shacks that are inhabited mostly in the fall.

A team of MDNR Parks and Recreation staff members worked in conjunction with local, state and federal agencies.

Around 2 p.m. Monday, after snowshoeing through blinding snow, wind chills of 40 below and snow depths in excess of four feet for several hours, Parks and Recreation district supervisor Bill Doan and park rangers Jimmy Newkirk, David Merk and Emily Pleiness located the two snowmobilers.

In that severe weather, frostbite can occur in 15 or 20 minutes and the Jenneys were suffering from frostbite, hypothermia and dehydration. They were helped to nearby snowmobiles and transported by state police and local volunteers to an area accessible by ambulance, then transported to the hospital.

Thin ice encountered

They became stranded after their snowmobiles broke through the ice on the Little Iron River on Sunday afternoon.

The Jenneys had a lot of luck on their side during the grueling ordeal.

Although that area, and many other western Upper Peninsula locations, do not receive reliable cell phone coverage, the Jenneys were able to send several text messages to family members, relaying the situation.

Using geo-location data attached to the text messages, state police and the Civil Air Patrol identified a remote four-square-mile area where the two were last known to be, allowing the DNR's ranger team to begin a coordinated search and rescue effort along the river corridor on Monday morning.

Search by snowshoes

Because of deep snow off the trail and open water on the river, Doan determined the rangers would need to search by snowshoes, rather than snowmobiles.

The team broke up, with Doan and three rangers hiking in from the north end, while ranger Justin Farley and a local volunteer hiked in from the south, traversing rugged terrain, thin ice and open water.

"This is truly an incredible survival story on the part of the snowmobilers, who were able to keep moving and survive a night outdoors in these extreme elements," said park supervisor Kasey Mahony.

"The effort of our park staff is commendable, with one ranger spending more than eight hours searching off-trail on snowshoes in exceptionally difficult weather conditions. The dedication of our staff in responding to back country emergencies, and their commitment to regularly completing search and rescue and emergency response training, proved instrumental in the positive outcome for these snowmobilers," Mahony said.

WLUC-TV6 of Marquette reported the father and son were spending the weekend at the family's cabin near White Pine, snowmobiling around the Porkies, as they often do.

"It was pretty nasty, lots of water, and we were trying to find a way out. The banks were too high and we couldn't really find a safe way out," Jenney Jr. said in an interview with TV-6.

They tried to follow the river to Lake Superior, then spent the night with only a bottle of water, some granola bars and a dead cell phone.

Jenney Sr. said he didn't think they would make it through the night, but they kept going to keep from freezing to death, walking for 22 hours straight.

They were found around 2:30 p.m. Monday, about two miles from the lake, where there is a road.

Their injuries were only minor, including some frostbite.

Many assist

Also included in the successful rescue were the Ontonagon County Sheriff's Department, Ontonagon County Community Emergency Response Team, Ontonagon County Emergency Manager, U.S. Forest Service, DNR Law Enforcement Division, U.S. Air Force and Coast Guard, AmericInn of Silver City, Sled Necks of Wisconsin, Sonco Ambulance and numerous local volunteers.


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