Thursday, October 17, 2013

Search And Rescue Part I

Me On Search For A Missing Hunter Near Dinkey Creek

Dale Matson

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ “(Luke 15:4-6, NASB).

I have been an outdoorsman all of my life and run, skied and backpacked much of the Central Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. About nine years ago I was skiing in the back country below Huntington Lake California and came across another skier by the name of Dave Calvert who said he was looking for a lost snowmobiler who had been missing overnight. Dave was a civilian working with the Mountaineering Unit of The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, Search and Rescue Team. We talked for a bit and he invited me to investigate joining the team. As I returned to the parking area, the sheriff’s department snowmobile pulled in to transfer a man on a sled to an awaiting ambulance. They had found the man who had set his snowmobile on fire to keep warm overnight. I wrote down and later phoned the name Dave gave me.

Dave Calvert At The Iron Lakes Search

Art Sallee was my contact. I met with this kind of crusty John Wayne type who had been involved in search and rescue for years and was the unofficial team leader at the time. There was no official process for getting on the team at the time but Art made the rough ways smooth by helping me to initiate a background check and introduced me to the other Mountaineering Team members at their monthly meeting.
Art Sallee In The Commo Trailer At Florence Lake 

I also needed an Office of Emergency Services (OES) number and began training classes that involved skills like man tracking, staying overnight with only a fanny pack and Map and Compass navigational classes. I have never trained in high angle or swift water rescue. While I have hiked to the top of Mt. Whitney, I would not hang from a 50’ cliff on a half inch rope. While I completed the Pacific Ocean 2.4 mile swim in Ironman, the near panic I experienced in a class four rapids on the upper Kings River taught me to stay out of swift water. There is also ongoing training and fitness testing once you are considered “mission ready”.  I also had to be deputized and that happened just before I was about to be sent out on my first search.

It was a mutual aid search in Kings Canyon National Park near Hume Lake. A young man and his grandfather had been on a day hike near Cherry Gap and were missing overnight.  As I was awaiting my assignment to a search team, another volunteer team member Robin Calderwood looked up and asked two men who wandered into the parking lot if they were the missing folks. They said they were and she led them to the Command Post (CP). That was the end of our search. What a great first search it was! That is what is called beginner’s luck.  We were all treated to a free breakfast in the Hume Lake Camp mess hall and I drove home with a false impression of what Search and Rescue was all about.

I wrote and self published a book about my first seven years in SAR.

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