CARSON CITY, Nev. – Fifteen minutes of fuel.
That's what remained before a Nevada Army Guard Black Hawk crew would be forced to abandon the search for a lost motorcyclist near Nevada's northern border last week.
A driving mix of rain, snow and thunderstorms only made the precarious situation worse.
"If we had to go another 15 minutes we were going to have to go back and call it a night and avoid two separate thunderstorm cells," Capt. Craig Soule, pilot, said of the search Sept. 27 near Denio, Nevada, about 30 miles south of the Oregon border.
Moments later, the Black Hawk crew, with Humboldt County Sheriff's Deputy Kyle Negus aboard, spotted what they thought looked like the outline of a dairy cow.
"We were flying over an icy, nasty, muddy road," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Scott Taylor, who piloted the flight with Soule. "As we turned around, you could see it was the clear outline of a motorcycle."
The motorcyclist, Drew Martin of Oregon, was on day three of an eight-day road trip riding a twin-cylinder KTM 790 motorcycle with two friends, Negus said. His friends were on smaller motorcycles and decided to take a more adventurous route through the Pine Forest Range, Negus said.
They planned to meet at Denio.
As a storm moved in, the lone motorcyclist became stuck near Knott Creek Reservoir.
His two friends called the sheriff's office after they determined he was likely missing.
Given the remote location, the Nevada National Guard departed for the search at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 27 from the Army Aviation Support Facility in Stead. They arrived in Denio about 7 p.m. and met with Negus, who had been searching for the lost motorcyclist since that morning.
The crew spotted him shortly before nightfall as the weather worsened at about 7:30 p.m., Negus said.
"(The motorcyclist) said he had been out of water since that morning," Negus said. "He was thirsty and pretty tired. His bike had just broken down and he couldn't hike out because the mud was so bad."
Soule credited the successful search to the Nevada Army Guard's night-vision equipment, given the storm and nightfall made it nearly impossible to see the ground below.
"At the end of the day, all our training proved worthwhile," Soule said. "With our cameras, with our low-level flight capability, we make weather calls all throughout the year — we train for this. We also train on fuel management, making calculations, how fast we are burning fuel."
Other Nevada Army Guard crewmembers on the flight included Sgt. Jonah Young-Haines, Sgt. Audrey Williams and Sgt. 1st Class Medic Nicholas Hammond.
Without the Nevada Army Guard's assistance, the motorcyclist could have faced a dire fate, Negus said.
"The way the conditions were, how the soil gets, once it gets water on it, it turns into 8 inches of mud that will suck your boot right off your foot," Negus said. "It would've been a struggle to get out of there."