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Searchers believe missing hiker near Red Lodge is dead; search scaled back

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Posted at 5:35 PM, Jul 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-10 19:35:22-04

Searchers no longer believe missing hiker Tatum Morell is alive, and they are scaling back their search efforts in the mountains near Red Lodge.

Morell, a 23-year-old Montana State University graduate student, last made contact with her family July 1 through an inReach satellite communicator, and the search began July 5, according to Red Lodge Fire Rescue.

Searchers believe Morell left her tent the morning of Friday, July 2, to scale a 12,000-foot peak and never returned. She had planned to scale five such mountain peaks in the West Fork of Rock Creek, and she'd been training since she was a child, according to Red Lodge rescuers.

“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 Red Lodge Fire Chief Tom Kuntz. “After the extensive search efforts, we do not believe she survived.”

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

Her family asks that those wishing to help in search efforts or commemorate her life to donate in her honor to Red Lodge Fire Rescue.

Read the full news release from Red Lodge Fire below:

After nearly a week of intense search efforts for missing hiker Tatum Morell in the mountains near Red Lodge Montana, rescuers now believe it is unlikely she is still alive.

Rescuers have been searching extensively since July 5th for Tatum. 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. Search 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.

Rescuers have been searching the rugged mountains that rise above 12,000 feet since July 5th. 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 to rescuers.

Tatum Morell was an avid and experienced hiker who planned to climb 5 mountain peaks over 12000’ in the West Fork of Rock Creek near Red Lodge Montana. She had prepared for these hikes through a lifetime of backcountry trips and adventures with her family and by herself. She backpacked into the area, camped at Shadow Lake on Thursday, July 1, and contacted her family via an InReach satellite communicator that 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. She never returned to her tent. It is believed that Tatum had a tragic accident and was unable to activate her inReach device. 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 adds, “Tate was a fiercely independent, adventurous soul who loved the mountains. We find some solace in knowing she passed in a place she loved.”

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.

“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.

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 WY 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 [redlodgefire.com]