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Hazel Schwalm, 73, lost and trapped in 97º heat

Hazel Schwalm, 73, was missing for almost 21 hours, over half that time partially encased in a mudhole, before she was found by volunteer rescuers.

At around 10:00 p.m. on Wednesday, July 4, Schwalm and her husband, Calvin, were rounding up cattle which had gotten out of a pasture. The ranch land is about nine miles north of Midland and the cattle were roughly two miles northeast of the house.

Hazel stayed on foot to gather a few straggling, slower cattle while Calvin drove the main group ahead with the pickup. With no flashlight, the sky being overcast and her night vision not as good as it once was, Hazel become disoriented.

Family members searched throughout the night. At 5:30 a.m. the next day, they called for help from the Midland Volunteer Fire Department. The search was quickly supplemented by the Midland Ambulance, Philip Volunteer Fire Department, Haakon Emergency Management and Haakon County law officers. Many other volunteers also joined in; people leaving jobs, haying, combining and their own families.

Rueben Vollmer Jr., chief of the MVFD, said that approximately 60 people joined the search effort. Forty-plus four-wheelers and well over a dozen saddle horses were used. Don Kroetlin arrived with an Agriculture Service helicopter. Four trained canines of the South Dakota Search and Rescue Dog Association were used under the direction of Sharon Kirkpatrick-Sanchez, Whitewood, and Carol Boche, Martin.

Vollmer said that 20 square miles were covered during the 97 degree day. The only relief was a slight breeze out of the southeast.

In this situation, recent rains and underground streams on the property became a problem. Vollmer said that the searchers buried four four-wheelers in one slough. Some spots looked dry, some resembled alkalis beds, "but step in it and you just sank," said Vollmer.

Julie Schwalm, married to the couple's son, Joe, said, "It was a nerve-wracking, strange and surreal experience. You hear and read about things like this happening, but you don't expect to be part of an experience like that.

"You don't know how nice it is out here until something potentially terrible happens and people start showing up to help. Joe even half-jokingly said that he didn't realize there were that many people left in Haakon County. We can't say enough about everyone who helped in any way, shape or form."

Lola Roseth, Haakon County Emergency Manager, said, "We had a large host of volunteers. It is amazing at how many people show up out of the goodness of their hearts in a time of need."

Some volunteers did necessary chores other than search. Food and water was needed. Fuel was needed and frequent cleaning of chaff from the engines was needed for the four-wheelers.

Vollmer said that some searchers, staying within fences and the original search grid, came within 600 feet of Hazel. The searchers were ready to regroup and the next course of expansion would have included Hazel's position. She was trapped within sight of the glow of distant headlights passing on the road during the night and she could hear the rumble of big engines on the road.

Hazel had walked until about 3:00 a.m. Then, in the dark, she had slid down a grassy slope and rolled into a bog. She was stuck with her right leg up to her hip and her right arm solidly trapped. While waiting for help, she experienced swelling of her ankles from the night's walk or from being immobile. Trapped during the heat of the day, part of her became sunburned. Dehydration was becoming a serious problem.

The search dogs were greatly hampered by the heat. They cannot pant and effectively sniff at the same time. Until the temperature cooled way down, the handlers joined the traditional search without their dogs. They saw what looked like a downed calf in the distance. When it moved slightly, they investigated. Hazel was found at approximately 6:20 p.m. on Thursday, July 5.

A plywood platform was laid out and a sand shovel was used to free Hazel. At least one rescuer mis-stepped and had to be themselves reclaimed from the bog. Hazel was taken to the Pierre hospital.

As of Monday, she was back home and was already herding cattle.