Joe Blattner is the Chief of Missoula County Search and Rescue, the group of men and women volunteers who stand ready to respond at a moment’s notice to any kind of rescue, in all weather and all seasons.

Blattner and his crew responded Saturday night after a vehicle crashed into the Clark Fork River between Bonner and East Missoula.

“Missoula County Search and Rescue are comprised of men and women from the local area,” said Blattner. “We have 34 members, and we come from all different backgrounds and different walks of life with a common goal and a common mission, and that is to give back to the community. Because of that, we look at incidents like we had last night where we were dispatched to a vehicle in the river. Those are the types of calls that some speed and some haste are needed.”

In a short period of time, Blattner and his team, with assistance from Missoula Rural Fire, had portable lights at the scene with rescue boats and swimmers looking for the victims in the frigid Clark Fork River.

“You know, in cases like the one that we had last night, the other thing that we encounter often is search and rescue missions at night,” he said. “So that adds a layer of complication, a layer of complexity when we visually don't always get a perfect, large field of vision of what's going on, and so we have to make sure that we maintain a level of awareness to make sure that we do everything we can in our power to increase the safety of that operation.”

Blattner acknowledged that the two people in the vehicle, 42-year-old Jason E. Brandle and 5-year-old Abel Hamlin, both of Helena, died in the accident.

“My heart goes out to the friends and the family members, of all of those individuals,” he said. “This is an absolutely terrible situation. As first responders, our job is to do everything we can to systematically improve the situation that's presented, and we do that by making sure that the responders stay as safe as possible, and we want to give those that we respond to the best chance of getting back home.”

Blattner said the constant training undergone by the Search and Rescue volunteers helps them respond at a moment’s notice to any situation.

“We practice for these situations and we train with other agencies,” he said. “We do everything we can to make it as seamless as possible. We have several dozen people all moving towards the same operational goal, and every time we encounter this, it is the most important thing that we could ever be doing, and our goal is to make sure that we do absolutely everything we can for the victims, and that we stay safe.”

The fatal crash is still under investigation by the Montana Highway Patrol.


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