Sunday, July 26, 2015

365 True Things: 119/SAR

Me in a Blackhawk
Nine years ago today, I was sworn in as a volunteer on the Monterey County Sheriff's Search & Rescue team. We're a relatively small group, around forty, half sworn deputies, half volunteers. We have a monthly training—on anything from patient packaging to ropes systems to navigation to running a search—and otherwise we mainly see each other on missions. And at the annual Christmas party.

Our general territory is huge, around 3,200 square miles, though most of our activity is in the Ventana Wilderness/Los Padres National Forest or on the rugged Big Sur coast. Our missions include searches for lost hikers, assistance to injured hikers, body recoveries of suicides off Bixby Bridge or of the occupants of cars that drive over the coastal cliffs, the occasional evidence search. We assist other teams throughout California (mutual aid) thanks to our affiliation with the Mountain Rescue Association.

A search area
One of my favorite stories involves a 15-year-old boy from Tajikistan, an exchange student who had been in the US for only a few days. He and his host guardian were camping at a beautiful campsite, Pico Blanco Public Camp, with a little waterfall nearby. Maybe fighting jet lag, he wandered up toward a peak before his guardian awoke. On the way down, he went the wrong direction. We found him after he'd spent one day and one night out alone. He slept in a hollow tree. When he heard my colleague Steve coming down the Little Sur River shouting his name, he dashed out, threw his arms around Steve, and started bawling. I can only imagine his fear, loneliness—and ultimately, relief.

Then there's the mutual aid search for a 72-year-old lost hunter who was missing for eighteen days all told, which you can read about in this story. Although SAR didn't find him, he was found, alive and well, and it felt a bit like a miracle. It reminds me never to underestimate the staying power of someone who's lost, no matter his age.

Then again, one of our most recent calls was a search for a 76-year-old day hiker, who has still not been found. We don't have any idea where he was headed, which is a problem. We searched the likely areas. Unfortunately, some mysteries are never resolved.

Today there was a call to a trail—a very bad trail—I was just yesterday talking about with someone familiar with the area: Soberanes Canyon. An injury (probably a broken ankle: that's what happens at Soberanes). I was not able to respond, as I was on a hike elsewhere. If I had been home, I would have responded eagerly: it's been too long since I've been on a SAR mission.

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