Lost and Found in New Mexico

Friday, July 01, 2005

Where is Johnny? A Happy Ending!

Teams signing out at base camp - Mock Search in Albuquerque, New Mexico

At 2330 Team 1, the Groundpounders radioed in that they had found 2 Bubble Yum wrappers. It was confirmed with the parents that when they had stopped at a store on the way to the picnic, Johnny had bought a pack of Bubble Yum. The ATV team is called back to base camp and after a brief rest and a fill up on supplies, they head in the direction of the Groundpounders. According to the coordinates that were given to us by Team 1, they are about 1 1/2 miles from base camp. There are many Ponderoso pine trees and big boulders in the area. Because it is so dark, every tree and boulder is throughly searched. The trackers have begun to look for tracks and about midnight they located a fairly fresh set of tracks that could have been made by Johnny. They start to follow them and now have a very good idea of Johnny's direction of travel. Looking at the map and charting a path of his probable direction, there is a small trail that he would eventually meet up with. The ATV's are sent around to the trail, further out than we think Johnny would have gone and are headed back on the trail towards where the trackers are following the trail of footprints. There are whistle blows and much yelling of Johnny's name, listening each time for any sound. About 0100, Team 1 along with the trackers hear some rustling in the trees about 50 yards off the trail. Knowing that children, esp. at night might be frightened and not answer to strangers, the tactics change a little. One woman on the team starts talking loudly, but motherly, saying things like "My name is Mary, I'm with Search and Rescue, your parents called us to help look for you". "If you can hear me, yell help and we will follow your voice". She keeps talking and about 15 minutes later, a little voice yells "Help, I'm over here". The searchers encourage him to keep talking and within a few minutes they spot little Johnny curled up in a ball under a large tree. Mary goes to him and using an extra coat and hat that searchers carry with them, puts them on him and keeps talking to him. He is scared and afraid that he is in trouble but is reassured by the searchers that he is not in trouble, everyone is just glad that he was found. The team radios in to base camp that he has been found and there are many tears of happiness from the family as well as the SAR staff. After a brief assessment, Johnny is found to be in pretty good shape. He's given some water to drink and a granola bar to eat. He has a few scratches and his left ankle is a little swollen. Since all searchers are required to carry basic first aid supplies, a splint is located and his ankle immobilized and wrapped. The ATV's have arrived and the IC decides that the quickest way to get him back to his family is on an ATV. His parents agree and Johnny - with a warm coat, wooly hat, a huge pair of gloves and an extra helmet - is put in front of one of the ATV team member's vehicles, the driver holds on to him and he is driven back to base camp. Although still a little overwhelmed by his experience, the thrill of getting to ride on an ATV is overcoming some of his fear. At about 0230, Johnny arrives in camp on the ATV and is quickly smothered in kisses and hugs. The EMT's do another assessment, clean up his scratches and decide he is in good shape except for a possible sprained ankle. His parents advise us that they will take him to the Emergency Room and the ambulance on standby is canceled. He gets a cup of hot cocoa and a PB and Jelly sandwich. Everyone is asking him what happened. He tells us that he and his friends were playing hide and go seek and while he was hiding he saw a bunny rabbit. It was cute so when it started hopping away he followed it. He soon lost it but then couldn't find his way back to where everyone else was. He thought he knew where the camp was but he actually had turned the opposite way and walked almost 2 miles the wrong direction. At one point there was an arroyo (a ditch) that he had to climb down into and then up the other side. While climbing up the other side the dirt slid and so did he. That's when his ankle started hurting. He walked a little further but it was so dark and he could hear animals howling and it scared him. He saw the big tree and climbed underneath it to hide. He thinks he slept for a little while and that's probably why he didn't hear the whistles or car horns. He was hungry and thirsty but all he had was the Bubble Yum and he'd already put those in his mouth. Because his ankle hurt, he decided not to walk anymore and decided that in the morning when it was light he could find his way back.
The parents are very grateful and constantly thank us for finding their son.
After getting all the information from the parents, Johnny and the searchers, the mission starts to wind down. Other teams are told to stand down and the Area commander is informed of a successful find. Paperwork limiting our liability for injuries and non-transport by ambulance is signed by the parents, teams check out and a time is set to close out the mission. The time to close the mission is based on how long it will take every team to get home. So the team that came the farthest sets the time the actual mission will close. After making sure everyone is back in base camp and we haven't lost someone else, we clean up around the camp and people start to leave.
The IC is the last one to leave, making sure no one and no thing is left behind.
This time the mission ends happily with a successful find of a relatively healthy person. Not every search ends this way or so quickly. There have been searches where the person is found, but is deceased and searches where the person is never found. This is devasting to not only the family but to the SAR personel who put their time and hearts into trying to find a lost person.
The next couple of posts will be about preventing
getting lost in the first place as well as what to do if you do get lost.
I hope you'll return to read the helpful hints I've learned over the years.
Have a fun but safe holiday and keep an eye on everyone with you. It only takes a second for someone to get turned around and start going the wrong way. And if someone does get lost please call for help as soon as possible. The faster we mobilize and start looking the better our chances our of finding the lost person.


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