Monday, February 6, 2012

How To Get Rescued

Lost in the forested mountains of Oregon, Belinda and Daniel Conne, their 25-year-old son Michael and the family pit bull terrier, survived for six days before being found by search and rescue teams.

The family of three left their Jeep on the side of a remote logging road and hiked into the forest in search of mushrooms. Everything went well until dusk fell and they decided it was time to turn around and head back to the Jeep. Between the three of them, they couldn't agree on which direction they needed to go to return to their vehicle.

It was a textbook case of "day hike" syndrome. They had ventured off into the wilds with no preparation for spending a night (or more) in the woods. No food, no water, no shelter, no way to start a fire, no way to signal for help. Classic.

When they eventually figured out that they were lost, they decided to hole-up for the night in a hollowed out tree beside a primitive forest road that ran alongside a river bank. There, they huddled for warmth. That was on a Sunday. The following Tuesday, when the family didn't return to their trailer, the campsite manager started the process to get a search party dispatched. On Wednesday, the Jeep was found. Inside the Jeep were two small dogs and the family's jackets.

Searchers started tracking a trail of debris — mushroom hunting buckets, pop cans, and some articles of clothing — but they didn't find the family, even though there were lots of people searching on the ground and helicopters were searching from the air.

After the rescue the following Saturday, Daniel Conne said that he had a sinking feeling every day that the family wasn't found. He watched the helicopters flying overhead, but had no way of attracting their attention. "You were right above us," Conne said.

When the family was finally rescued, they were only 200 yards from the nearest search team. "We were actually right near them all three days of the search," one of the team leaders said. "You think people can hear you, but they can't."

The family was within the search area the whole time, but they kept moving, making the search for them more difficult.

The good news is that everyone survived, although they were hospitalized for a time to treat hypothermia, frostbite, dehydration and Michael's sprained foot.

And, of course, for us there are lessons to be learned.
  • Don't fall victim to "day hike" syndrome. Always take emergency provisions with you on even a short foray. You never know what might happen that will cause you to have to stay overnight (and maybe several overnights, as in this case). I don't mean to sound negative, but it's safer to assume that things might go wrong than to assume that everything will go perfectly. 
  • Carry shelter, food, water filter, extra clothing, signal mirror and whistle, and redundant methods for starting a fire. Don't leave this stuff behind in the vehicle. It won't do you any good there. 
  • Leave word with friends and family members, telling them where you're going and when you expect to be back.
  • If you become lost, stop and make shelter early. 
  • Don't keep wandering around, or you make it more difficult for searchers to locate you. 
  • In a clearing or on a ridge, to maximize visibility, establish visible signals (colored panels on the ground or fixed to poles to wave like flags, smoke by day and flame by night). 
  • Use a signal mirror and a signal whistle. Don't assume the helicopter will see you from above or that searchers will hear you. Make yourself visibly obvious, and be noisy. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm wondering why these helicopters didn't have heat seeking equipment, seems like they all do anymore.

    I'm also wondering why so much money is spent on saving idiots when all they have to do is buy a compass or a hundred buck GPS.

    The battery in a GPS unit is only good for about four hours but that is beside the point, turn it on at the start and set a waypoint, turn it off.

    If you get confused turn it on and find your way back.

    Or just get out of the damn food chain.