Sweetwater County authorities say a recently-acquired piece of military equipment played a pivotal role in the rescue of 12 people who became stranded in a blizzard the day after Thanksgiving.

At about 7 p.m. Friday, deputies were notified that four different vehicles were stranded atop White Mountain in blizzard conditions. They were stuck on White Mountain Road, about nine miles south of the intersection with Fourteen Mile Road.

Two of the stranded vehicles were off of the main roadway, near the edge of the mountain, and high winds were causing them to slide down the mountain. Sustained wind speeds were reported at 60-70 mph, gusting as high as 80 mph.

A search and rescue operation was initiated and staged near Fourteen-Mile Hill, north of Rock Springs. Shortly before 9 p.m., rescuers started up the mountain in a Hagglunds M937A1 Small Unit Support Vehicle.

Using the tracked vehicle, rescuers had to cut their own trail, as the road was impassable due to snowdrifts three feet tall in some places. Temperatures were frigid amid the blizzard conditions, and with blowing snow limiting visibility to 20 feet, the team used real-time GPS mapping technology to navigate.

The crew was able to find all four stranded vehicles within about half a mile of each other and, by 1:15 a.m. Saturday, they returned to the staging area with 12 people safely extracted.

In a statement Wednesday, the sheriff's office explained that the Hagglunds vehicle was acquired in August as part of a program which transfers excess military equipment to local agencies.

"Originally developed for the Swedish military, the vehicle features articulated steering, an independent four-track drive with reinforced rubber tracks, a servo-assisted steering gear with a turning radius of less than 27 feet and a low ground pressure equivalent to less than half of that exerted by a human foot," the statement reads. "It can climb slopes 60 percent or steeper, and is also fully amphibious with a speed in water of up to 3 mph. It has a load capacity of over two tons, and seats 17 passengers."

All those features make it an ideal vehicle for navigating rough terrain.

"While we'd of course prefer everyone to stay safe and stay home in inclement weather conditions like those we experienced over Thanksgiving weekend, the Hagglunds is an incredible tool, we're fortunate to have it and make it available to the community, and it's a piece of equipment that was critical to the success of this rescue mission," Field Services Lieutenant Joe Tomich said.

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