The Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office got a new toy this week and began putting it to use right away.
The office purchased an ATV with snow tracks for its snowmobile patrol division, using grant funds from the Oregon State Snowmobile Association.
Tom Roberts, the county’s emergency manager, said the vehicle is useful because it can travel on different types of terrain and also haul a heavy payload.
On Wednesday morning the search and rescue division was sent out to find a plane that had crashed in the snowy mountains east of Milton-Freewater.
Roberts had the ATV fueled up and took it the mountains, and soon after the search and rescue team found the pilot and passenger near Government Camp — cold and wet, but uninjured.
As the response team was returning from that call, the Umatilla Tribal Police Department called and asked for help finding a possibly suicidal man near Poverty Flats near Pendleton.
Using the ATV, searchers found the man and returned him to safety.
“Within the first few hours of having this type of vehicle, we’ve already demonstrated its value to the Sheriff’s Office,” said Jim Littlefield, Umatilla County undersheriff. “While the vehicle’s primary mission will be for snow patrol use, it also has the capacity to be used in many other situations and can help us save lives.”
Roberts said a similar vehicle was borrowed from Walla Walla to respond to the 2012 bus crash at Deadman Pass that required traveling up and down steep terrain, and he’s glad to have one at his disposal in Umatilla County.