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Re: Take the "Search" out of Search and Rescue!

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Take the "Search" out of Search and Rescue!
August 07, 2013 07:43PM
I am an obsessive reader of SAR operations, with both good and bad outcomes, and one thing that constantly sticks out at me is the work that has to be done to FIND lost people.

I'm also a professional sailing instructor, and I've attended many safety talks. One that I attended a few years back was titled "take the Search out of Search and Rescue", which was taught be a decades-experienced Coast Guard SAR expert. He demonstrated a whole variety of items and techniques to facilitate being found.

But over, and over, I see searches conducted for people, where they could not be easily found, although they were not far from rescue.

Unfortunately, in the land arena, I don't see a similar approach. It seems to me that this deserves more attention.

For example, one of the easiest things to do when you have been lost for a day or so to do, is to light a smokey fire. Fires are never considered normal in the backcountry, are easy to spot from a high spot or the air, and when seen, even if a SAR operation is not in progress, will usually be investigated.

Thoughts?
avatar Re: Take the "Search" out of Search and Rescue!
August 07, 2013 07:59PM
Quote
Ken M
For example, one of the easiest things to do when you have been lost for a day or so to do, is to light a smokey fire. Fires are never considered normal in the backcountry, are easy to spot from a high spot or the air, and when seen, even if a SAR operation is not in progress, will usually be investigated.

Thoughts?

Years ago, I think it was in the late 1990s...I read of a couple of teenagers visiting CA from OH during a fairly dry year here. They were hiking the Pine Ridge Trail in Ventana Wilderness in August...guess you can see where this is going. They got lost, lit a 'rescue fire', and burned up about 2 miles of canyon.

I'm pretty sure carrying a whistle close at hand is a better answer.
Re: Take the "Search" out of Search and Rescue!
August 07, 2013 08:11PM
Quote
ttilley
Quote
Ken M
For example, one of the easiest things to do when you have been lost for a day or so to do, is to light a smokey fire. Fires are never considered normal in the backcountry, are easy to spot from a high spot or the air, and when seen, even if a SAR operation is not in progress, will usually be investigated.

Thoughts?

Years ago, I think it was in the late 1990s...I read of a couple of teenagers visiting CA from OH during a fairly dry year here. They were hiking the Pine Ridge Trail in Ventana Wilderness in August...guess you can see where this is going. They got lost, lit a 'rescue fire', and burned up about 2 miles of canyon.

I'm pretty sure carrying a whistle close at hand is a better answer.

Really? I guess you've never flown in a helicopter? I think they are a little noisy. Whistles are very useful within a short distance, but not when searching square miles.

Of course, you can abuse or misuse any technique. I suppose that this is where I mention that a "SPOT" works very poorly, when it has been used to drive tent stakes?
avatar Re: Take the "Search" out of Search and Rescue!
August 08, 2013 11:36AM
I think Ken's suggestion would be very practical for attracting attention. The probability of a fire getting out of hand is no greater than it's ever been. The several thousand fire rings in Yosemite are testament to that. The probability of the smoke being noticed is very high, even before anyone realizes somebody is in need of a rescue.White flag
avatar Re: Take the "Search" out of Search and Rescue!
August 09, 2013 02:27AM
I can think of lots of reasons why someone in need of rescue wouldn't be able to build a fire: they're halfway up a cliff; they're clinging to a rock in the middle of a river; there's no fuel around or they're too badly hurt to collect any. Once they do get a fire going, they may have to choose between letting it go out and leaving it untended while they gather more fuel. If they're in a really isolated location, it might take a pretty big fire to produce enough smoke to get seen.

If they manage to build a fire and it gets out of control, they'll almost certainly be worse off than before.

The guy who died after running out of water in 108-degree temperatures probably wasn't in good enough shape to build a fire, wouldn't have lasted long enough for help to arrive, and would have gone downhill even faster trying to keep a fire going.

There are probably situations where a fire is a good solution but I keep coming up with ones where it wouldn't be. I do mostly day hiking on maintained trails and don't even carry matches. Lots of water, though!
Re: Take the "Search" out of Search and Rescue!
August 09, 2013 10:37PM
I dunno, Gopher. Personally, I believe in the ten essentials, but you are apparently proud of not carrying that. To each their own.

I've read about so many SAR operations, where the issue is FINDING the person, in forested areas.

Of course, it won't always work. Nothing does. Sat phones don't work when they've been squashed by a boulder, probably when they've been immersed (OH! Didn't think to put it in a plastic bag!)

I don't remember any situation in recent years where a person built a signal fire. There were many where it would have greatly diminished the search.
avatar Re: Take the "Search" out of Search and Rescue!
August 10, 2013 02:04AM
I thought about this many times when I read Into the Wild. McCandless died a slow death alone in a bus (not really that far from an access road) Early on, when he still had some strength and his senses, it might have been possible to burn something (a spare tire? Nothing like a big, black cloud of rubber smoke)



The body betrays and the weather conspires, hopefully, not on the same day.
Re: Take the "Search" out of Search and Rescue!
August 10, 2013 10:37AM
I'm thinking of the current search for Johnnie Jean Daniel, missing out of Mineral King.

>11 ground search teams, 3 search dogs, 1 contract helicopter.

What one plume of smoke would accomplish.........

maybe she can't. Maybe she doesn't have the means. Maybe she is above timberline.

....and maybe she hasn't thought of it.

Sort of like a person who dies of dehydration while afloat on a boat....on a freshwater lake, because they don't have a filter.
avatar Re: Take the "Search" out of Search and Rescue!
August 11, 2013 09:22PM
Building a signal fire can be very useful in certain scenarios. It would be crazy to categorically rule it out as an option as some might want to do.

That said, usually overdue hikers that have a lot of hiking experience, like the person you mentioned above, are overdue and need help because they got hurt and are immobilized, often times fatally so.

It's one thing to try to build a signal fire if one is just lost or stranded but otherwise healthy. It's another matter if one is suffering from broken limbs or serious internal injures due to a fall or other mishap.

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