Like all search and rescue units, the Park County Search and Rescue team wins some, and loses some.
Fortunately, an Aug. 30 call which led PSCAR team members deep into the bowels of Slaughterhouse Gulch resulted in a resoundingly positive outcome for all parties involved.
PSCAR Supervisor Daniel Knudsen received the distress call at about 1:30 p.m., and promptly directed five teams of search and rescue personnel about 11.2 miles down the popular off-highway use trail. The trails are rated as “difficult,” featuring narrow, rocky paths with rutted washouts and suited only for well-equipped off-road vehicles.
Knudsen was informed that a badly damaged vehicle had been abandoned and that the driver had not yet been located.
“Some guys took a picture of the truck and showed it to an employee at Crossroads Pub and Grill in Pine Junction,” Knudsen said. “That employee knew the truck and was able to identify its owner. Teams arrived at the location at about 3 p.m.”
According to Knudsen, identifying the missing individual or subject of a search is extremely helpful. The subject’s description, habits and personal traits and characteristics help in the tracking process, as well as treating the subject in the event that medical attention is required on location.
A number of recreationalists utilizing the trail stopped and walked around the vicinity of the abandoned vehicle, leaving footprints and human scents throughout the area. Knudsen estimates that more than 20 vehicles stopped at the scene, and that large numbers of curious passerbyers got out to observe the abandoned vehicle.
“We had a human tracker (mantracker) on location, but he had a difficult time because of all the activity around the subject’s abandoned vehicle,” Knudsen said. “Any time people see an abandoned vehicle in a situation like that, they should be careful not to track up the location and to keep it clean for the benefit of search and rescue parties.”
Interestingly, Knudsen consults a statistical guide specifically designed for search and rescue personnel which helps to determine the most likely location for lost or missing subjects. In the case of abandoned vehicles, the guide indicated that subjects will usually travel down hill and that the average distance traveled before stopping is generally about four-tenths of a mile.
Knudsen generally conducts searches based on the highest probabilities or most likely scenarios that occur in similar circumstances based on the statistical information at his disposal. If the highest probabilities do not lead search and rescue teams to the lost or missing subjects, then the next highest probabilities are adopted and explored.
In this case, the subject did in fact travel down hill, and did travel for a distance similar to those suggested by Knudsen’s statistical information.
The search parties also included two Park County Sheriff’s deputies and a Forest Service truck and Forest Service personnel who volunteered their services to assist in the search.
That statistical information fortunately led search and rescue teams in the right direction, but it was Yinnie, an air scent rescue dog (border collie) which ultimately located the subject after about 45 minutes at the scene.
Yinnie is owned by Marcia McMahon, a longtime member of PSCAR. The two have been together on countless search and rescue missions, often utilizing Yinnie’s keen sense of smell to locate lost subjects.
“Yinnie did not come back to Marcia [after locating the subject] but instead stayed with the subject and barked,” Knudsen said. “He brought the man out of an uncounscious state with licks and barks, and did not leave that location until Marcia arrived. Yinnie knew the subject was in trouble, but alive.”
Had the subject been deceased, according to Knudsen, Yinnie would have run laps back and forth between the teams and the subject. All rescue dogs utilize specific signs and body language to let their owners know the situation when they make a find, so McMahon and other PCSAR personnel knew the subject was still alive based on Yinnie’s behavior.
“Because the subject was in a ditch, and because of the color of his clothing, it is very likely that he might not have been spotted even if search and rescue personnel got very close to his location,” Knudsen said.
The subject, a local middle-aged male who shall remain nameless at the request of him and his family, had multiple lascerations, was hypothermic and drifting in and out of consciousness when PSCAR members arrived.
According to Knudsen, the subject’s condition was such that he likely would not have survived a second night in the wilderness without medical attention. It is estimated that the vehicle was abandoned late Saturday night, or in the early morning hours Sunday.
“We contacted Flight for Life in Frisco at 6:34 p.m. and they were on the ground by 7:20 p.m.,” Knudsen said. It doesn’t get any quicker than that.”
A local wrecker service offered, at no cost, to retrieve the subject’s vehicle and has successfully done so.
The subject is rapidly improving but remained hospitalized as of Tuesday morning.
According to Knudsen, PCSAR currently consists of 25 members and has grown considerably in recent years. He also said PSCAR is currently in the process of finding more members, and that the goal is to eventually have a team of about 35 qualified volunteers.
Those interested in joining PCSAR can obtain information about required qualifications and the application process at www.pcsar.org.
PCSAR is receives funding at the county level, but individual donors are important to its continued success. Those interested in making donations should also visit the PCSAR website for additional information.
More interesting facts and information about PCSAR can be found on Page 6 inthis edition of The Flume, as McMahon has submitted a story and photos related to recent searches, mutual agency assists and summer training highlights.