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Manteca paramedic rescues brother on Sonora Pass
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Manteca ambulance paramedic Troy Hawkins, of Oakdale, stands at the rear of his emergency rig following the dramatic weekend rescue of his brother who suffered a broken pelvis in a snowmobile rollover on Sonora Pass Saturday. - photo by GLENN KAHL
Manteca District Ambulance paramedic Troy Hawkins, 30, had a premonition – one he acted on – that saved the life of his 34-year-old brother Travis from a snowmobile accident and a freezing death in deep snow.

Hawkins had planned to go snowmobiling with his brother’s family about 10 days ago and spend the weekend together in a cabin at the Dardanelle’s area near Sonora Pass.  Working as a paramedic in Manteca and a firefighter in the Bay Area, he had gone without rest answering call after call.    

Being sleep deprived, he was feeling the effects and believed he was probably coming down with the flu as well.  He said he had made the decision that he was going to forget the family trip opting to go home and sleep it.

“But, I just had a feeling that I needed to go – I needed to be there for my brother,” he said.  Hawkins tried to shrug off his physical ills and did get some rest before he headed for Dardanelle where he would meet his brother’s family for the trip up the winding stretch of Highway 108 referred to as the Golden Staircase.

Travis had taken on the snowmobiling sport first with his youngest brother following his lead this year buying a snowmobile of his own.  While they own a cabin in the pass area, they had rented one from the resort with more amenities that would actually fit their needs better running water.   

The older brother had taken his family into the mountains before his brother arrived with his wife Janelle, son Aiden, 6, and daughter Leila, 3.  Troy said when he arrived he was approaching from the California side and his brother and his wife and kids were coming from the Nevada side near the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center.

He got to the resort’s cabin early (about 1:30) and it was about another 10 miles to where he expected to find Travis snowmobiling his way.  He remembers telling the Dardanelle’s Resort owner Chuck Fleischer that he was going to get on his snowmobile and try to find his brother.  Fleischer would later be the first to join in the search for the brother who became lost in the snow.

First time crossing Sonora Pass while on snowmobile
Troy said he hadn’t snowmobiled over the pass before and this was only his second time riding the machine.  He said he got on his Ski Doo 800 with it snowing but the weather wasn’t too bad, he added.  

“I got through some rough terrain to the bottom of this hill just below the Golden Staircase with a cliff and one area that is pretty steep.  When I got to the bottom of that, he (Travis) drove down and he was fine,” Troy said.  

He recalled his brother was towing a sled that was heaped with his camping gear that looked pretty heavy.  Travis dropped off the sled saying he was going back up to bring the rest of his family down through what he described as “a real bad section.”  Leila was riding with his wife Janelle on her snowmobile and Aiden, his six-year-old nephew was to be riding with his brother.

“He never came back after I waited about 10 minutes,” Troy said.   “I started going up the hill, because I didn’t know what was taking him so long.  As I went up the side of the cliff, Leila was coming down with her daughter shouting that Travis had rolled his snow mobile over the side.”

The Manteca paramedic said he looked down the hill seeing his brother about 30 yards below, lying next to the snowmobile that was on its side and calling out that he thought his leg was broken.

 One he got down the slope and stood at his brother’s side he realized he would be unable to move the machine and use it to get his brother back up  the 45-degree grade.   Another problem the brothers faced was the weather that was closing in and it was starting to get dark.  They agreed it was important to get his wife and the children back to the resort before the weather worsened.

“We only had so much time to get back,” Troy remembered.  “He got on his satellite phone and called some of his buddies to come and help and I think he also called Search and Rescue.  We decided it would be best if I got the kids out of there first and I come back and get him.”

Troy said he helped his brother get into two sleeping bags despite a broken pelvis and gave him the water from his pack.  He then started heading down the hill with nephew Aiden on the back of his snowmobile and Travis’ wife riding ahead as the weather was closing in – getting stuck once on the way in deep powder.  He finally told Janelle to go ahead of him and to go as far as she could go as he attempted to free his ride.  

“I got unburied and took off going as fast as I could to catch up with her and it (the weather) got a little better after we got to the top of the mountain and back down past Kennedy Meadows where Chuck from the store had his SnowCat.  He said he was going to head up to see if he could help,” Hawkins said.

Nightfall brings blizzard conditions
Troy said when he got back to the resort – about 10 miles away – he dropped his sister-in-law and their children off and he started heading back up toward his brother’s location.

The firefighter said it was dark and the blizzard just came in full bore at that point.

 “It was windy – a whiteout – and my goggles were freezing over.  I couldn’t see anything.  My tracks were already covered because it was snowing so hard. I could see the street posts and I was following those, but it would get so deep that they would disappear.  I kinda knew where I was going, but I couldn’t see and I was going through some bad area.”

He said he caught up with Chuck again where his SnowCat had since broken down half way up the mountain, realizing that he was by himself again.

Troy remembers the conditions were “pretty bad” but knew he couldn’t leave his brother out there to freeze.  He said he came up to the bottom of the hill where his brother had earlier dropped off the sled recognizing he was in the just about the right place where he had last seen his brother.

He drove his snowmobile up the adjacent cliff and located his brother nearly covered with snow saying he was just about ready to set his machine’s gas tank on fire to keep warm.  Travis had already started the engine with too little warmth to cut into the freezing cold.  

Troy said his brother didn’t think he was coming back for him, because of the length of time he had been gone and he actually thought he was going to freeze to death.  A detachment of Marines and a Search and Rescue from the Nevada side had been called off because the weather was so bad, he added.

“I told Travis, we need to get you out of here.  Either I drag you up the hill – he was screaming on and off with the pain – or we crawl.  I stomped out a wake (in the snow) and helped him crawl up the hill and put him on the back of the snowmobile,” Troy said.  

They traveled through the weather for about 10 miles keeping the snowmobile’s speed down trying not to aggravate the injuries; they finally arrived at the resort.  They had met the SnowCat about half way down, but it was decided to keep Travis on the snowmobile.

Search and Rescue picked up Troy’s injured brother back at the Dardanelle’s Resort taking him another 10 miles down the hill where he was transferred to a waiting ambulance and to a hospital for treatment.