Lost and Found in New Mexico

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Hiker Survives Five Days in Lava Field...

As I was writing about the other day, you can live for many days without food but not very long without water. I found an interesting story on the AP wire and wanted to share it with you. It's about a 41 year old man who had left his car at the end of a road near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. He wanted to check out an active volcano nearby. He was an experienced hiker and that plus gear he was carrying saved his life. After seeing the lava flow he started heading back to his car but got turned around. Lava rocks are unforgiving on your feet and there is little vegetation in old lava flows. This man was incredibly smart and a young boy on a helicopter tour was extremely curious and noticed a bright light coming from the lava. I'll let you read the rest of the story here. This is what I want people to learn, that with a little creative thinking and preparation you can survive what most people would not believe you could.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Search and Rescue mission...

Around noon yesterday I was called by the Area Commander and asked to work a mission out of my district. I agreed and started getting my gear together as well as calling teams out. We were looking for an older man with Alzheimers who had wandered away the day before (the 19th) about 1600 hours. The family had spent the evening looking for him but by daylight realized they needed more help. Because it was out of my district it was about a 3 hour drive to base camp. About 30 minutes before I got to base camp I got a call saying the man had been located and was in good condition. Thank God!
There are some interesting things about subjects with Alzheimers. A big one is that they wander. That is why many care facilities for these types of patients have elaborate locks and alarm systems. The other thing I find fascinating is that for some reason when they wander they go way back in their past and several times subjects have been located in places where they used to live or work. We had a search for an older man who drove 75 miles from a big city to his old homestead, got out of the car, found his old home and the schoolhouse where he had taught and located his wife's grave. But when he tried to get back to his car he got totally turned around and unfortunately, even after days of searching, his body was located several miles in the opposite direction about 3 weeks later by a horse team doing a training in the area.

So, yesterday was a good day and a great miracle. It was very hot in the day, but the nighttime was warm, not cold and that helped him to survive.
We did not use this helicopter in the search yesterday, but it was available to us if we had needed it. This picture is from a previous search where we used the National Guard helicopter to hoist 2 woman and their sweet, little pit bull out of a very remote area.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Besides people we use...

Future SAR dog
dogs, horses, All Terrain Vehicles (ATV's), helicopters, 4x4 vehicles, snowmobiles in the winter, bikes, snowshoes, cross country skis, water craft, lots of radios and at night - many, many flashlights. We use whatever it takes to find a lost person. We always need volunteers so if you are interested, call your local Sheriff or State Police and ask for the closest SAR group in your area.

Refreshing your memory...

Click on picture for a larger view!

Survival kit supplies: Even in the summer, a jacket with a hood, nonperishable food, water, lighter (parents should decide if a child is old enough to carry this), a whistle, ziplock baggie, bright colored flagging tape, black trash bag, foiled covered cardboard for a signal mirror.
Carry this in your pocket or a small fanny pack or backpack.
If you think you are lost, Stay where you are, close to a road or trail if possible.
If you keep walking it takes us longer to find you.
Tell someone where you are going. DO NOT rely on cellphones(or family radios)!
There aren't always signals!
Make sure your children know that it is okay to talk to strangers when they are lost, especially if they are calling their name. Tell them not to hide! If a person is dressed like a search and rescue person (helmet, headlamps, whistles, backpacks, etc), they are looking for you. Find shelter and make a little spot to rest in.
Only leave the shelter for: getting water,
going to the bathroom, if you hear an aircraft or if you hear searchers.
Learn to make a snow angel (even in the summer) so an aircraft can spot you easier.
(Lay on your back and move your arms and legs in and out).
The sound of a whistle is louder than your voice. Use it often esp. if you hear people.
Stay warm and dry. Drink water as often as you can. STAY PUT!!!
We will find you and much more quickly!

The wilderness is fun! It's an exciting area with lots of places to explore.
Just use your brain and think about what you are doing, where you are going
and if other people are with you, keep an eye on them as well.

Prevention is the best medicine...

We had a happy ending with the finding of little Johnny before he was gone very long. But could this whole scenerio have been prevented? Yes! For both children and adults there are several things that you can do to help prevent getting lost in the first place and if you do get lost being found very quickly.
1. Always tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return. Even if you are carrying a cellphone, you might not have a signal so don't rely on it to call for help!
2. Know the area you are going to and check the extended weather forecast, preparing your gear accordingly. Things I never leave home without: (regardless of weather) are a jacket with a hood, lighter or matches, a whistle, several nonperishable food items and WATER.
3. Help your children prepare for a possible unexpected night in the wilderness. No need to scare them, make it fun. Help them prepare a small survival kit and talk to them about what might happen if they were to get lost. As well as the jacket with the hood, a whistle, food items and water (I reserve the use of lighters for older kids and adults) the small survival kit should contain the following: One ziplock freezer bag (used to carry other small items as well as a way to collect water), a large black trash bag (tearing off one corner of the bottom will make a nice poncho or it can be used to sit on when the ground is wet), bright colored flagging tape or strips of bright cloth (use will be explained later) and a piece of cardboard with aluminum foil wrapped around it (shiny side out it makes a good signal mirror). The whistle, cardboard mirror, black trash bag, flagging tape and food products should fit in the ziplock bag which can then be carried in a pocket of your pants or in your jacket. Older children and adults might want to prepare a kit in a fanny pack or small backpack. Regardless, even on a picnic, make sure you and your children carry the survival kit on their person at all times. Water is crucial and everyone should carry as much as they can when out playing or hiking in the wilderness. You can live for days without food, but only for a very short time without water. There are many types of water carrying systems, the easiest is a water bottle that can be clipped on to a belt loop with a carabiner (very cheap, sometimes free giveaways at sports stores and military recruiting stations). You can also tie a piece of nylon webbing or small rope around the bottle and sling it across your chest.
4. Before you set out on your hike, walk or just go find a pee tree, turn around and look back at where you are leaving from. Try to find some kind of landmark that would help guide you back in the right direction.
1. If you feel like you are lost or at least a little confused about the direction you should travel, STOP!!!
Take a good look at your surroundings. If nothing seems familier, procede to step 2.
2. If you are lost please don't keep walking thinking that you will eventually find your way back. Instead, concentrate on finding shelter and stay put. Adults and children have sometimes been found 5-7 miles from where they were last seen. If you keep walking and searchers start looking for you, you have a head start and we have to not only try to catch up with you but find which direction you went as well. If you are out in the wilderness by yourself and have told someone where you were going, we will find you much faster if you don't keep moving. Even if you didn't tell someone where you were going, staying put helps us find you much quicker.
3. When looking for shelter, remember a few things. Trees are probably the safest. Caves are okay but are sometime inhabited by other creatures. If it's lightening, don't pick the tallest tree, try for a shorter one with larger, low hanging branches to protect you from the elements. This is where the bright colored flagging tape comes in handy. Tie a piece or all of it on the outside of where you are taking shelter, about eye level. This will alert a searcher that you might be nearby, even if you are asleep. Also, try to find shelter near a large clearing and if possible a trail (even an animal path). Some searchers will be bushwhacking, but other searchers will be walking the roads and trails. To make a comfortable shelter for yourself, pile leaves, pine needles and branches into a little bed. If you don't need the black trash bag for a poncho, use it to lie on or make a small tent-like cover over you. You can also cover yourself with the debris (leaves, twigs, etc.), anything to keep you warm and dry, which is very important. Search and Rescue operations are increasingly using aircraft in the daylight hours to search for lost people. If you hear an aircraft, go into the clearing, with your cardboard signal mirror and lie down on the ground. Make snow angels (yes, even in the summer). When a spotter in an aircraft is looking down, they will see you more easily if you make yourself big (like the snow angels). Standing up, jumping up and down and waving doesn't do much because from the spotters prespective they are just seeing the top of your head and won't necessarily recognized you as a person. If the sun is shining hold the signal mirror at an angle that will shine a light towards the aircraft. This catches their attention pretty fast if done correctly. At night, a fire, if you are carrying a lighter or matches, will definitely catch the eyes and noses of searchers. Make sure to put it in the clearing so you don't start a forest fire. Use the whistle to call for help every couple of hours. The sound carries much further. And remember 3 blasts of a whistle (shots from a rifle, etc) is the sign for help (SOS). If you hear a whistle or your name being called, make sure to whistle or call back.
4. Conserving food and water. Remember you can last for a long time without food, but a shorter time without water. Eat a little when you are hungry or if you are feeling a little light headed. If will increase your blood sugar level giving you more energy. Drink often, not huge gulps but enough to keep you hydrated. If you are in a rain storm, try to collect rain water in the ziplock bag. If you are near a stream, refill your water bottle or the bag as necessary. One important warning: DO NOT try to get water from a swiftly flowing river or a lake that is not easily accessable, you could be swept away by the swift water or fall down an incline into the lake. Water can be found even in the desert, look in little potholes in rocks or shake dew off of trees in the morning (if they are near your shelter). And don't worry about bugs. If you get sick from drinking yucky water, that can be fixed later after you are found.
5. Be assured that if you have told someone where you were going and you didn't return when you said you would people will be looking for you. The same goes if you are travelling with a group and you are missing. Help your children understand that in this kind of situation it is okay to talk to strangers. Make sure you tell them that they will not be in trouble, with you or the police. Children tend to hide because they are afraid of strangers or think they will be in bad trouble. The most important thing is that we find them and quickly!!!
Being outdoors is a fun adventure! Take a few preventative measures before going out to make your trip safer. And if for some reason you get lost, STAY PUT!!!

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.