Friday, March 14, 2014

SAR Callout To Shaver Lake 03-12-14

Dale Matson

I received a call at about 1700 hours from our mission manager to check my email about a missing man near Shaver Lake off Dinkey Creek Road. The father of Kenneth Paul Young had received a text message from his son saying that he had injured his ankle on his motorcycle and needed help. There are more details from the Bee account.

The meet up location was about an hour away about 3 miles out of Shaver Lake on Dinkey Creek road. I threw a 30-liter pack and three plastic tubs of winter gear into my Tahoe and headed up the hill. It seemed a little odd since the temperature in Fresno was 75 degrees at the time. Shaver Lake is around 5,500’ and the search area was higher yet. By the time I turned off Dinkey Creek Road the temperature had dropped to 37 degrees. I immediately wondered how Kenneth would do if he was out overnight.
The IC Sergeant was there and talking with a forest service person and the Sheriff’s deputy assigned to that area. They had come across the abandoned motorcycle and gear and blocked off footprints leading away from the bike. We had a photograph of the distinctive shoe sole. Having a good print was a crucial bit of information for tracking Kenneth.

Our civilian team leaders Martin and Rich were conferring with the IC while A.J., Daniel, and I got our gear together. Mike was there with his search dog. The CP trailer and quad runners had not arrived yet.
Another team leader Russ arrived a bit later and began getting his gear together. Winter in the mountains is a crapshoot in knowing what to pack. It had rained on the way up and rain should always be expected. I had rain gear and waterproof gloves, an insulated jacket, headlamp, energy bars a Gatorade borrowed from Martin and a water bottle also. Most of us agreed not to pack a sleeping bag for the extra weight. We figured we would be on our feet all night anyway.

We were split into three teams and drove a couple more miles to get us closer to the abandoned motorbike. Martin went with Mike and his search dog. Russ and A J went together and Rich, Daniel and I teamed up. By this time we were in darkness and switched on our headlamps.

As we worked our way along the road, we did find a couple of tracks and Richard stayed with them for a time to build protection around them. We had begun the hunt but the road surface was packed and tracks were few and far between at that point. There were patches of snow and we did pick up a couple of prints heading north. Once it seemed that the direction of travel had been established, the teams came together. Mike and his dog had to turn back and Richard went out with them.

The going was uphill and slow. Under these circumstances we were looking for what could be called “track traps”. These are areas across the road where a person would be more likely to leave a print. They are generally mud, sand or snow. The road was covered with pine needles, which also obscured tracks. We were looking for disturbed places also. Most of us had been schooled under the master tracker Art Sallee and it was evident that Russ had the best eyes and the most patience of any of us. As he held his light across and just above the track it appeared to the rest of us. click to enlarge photos.

Russ at footprint

We communicated with the CP that we were on track and they sent two deputies to leap frog ahead of us on their quad runners. Because we had spotty cell tower communication, Russ was able to take cell phone photographs and attach them to text messages to the CP in addition to calling the coordinates of the tracks and other trail evidence.  In the meantime another group of Sheriff's deputies came up behind us. the deputy on the quadrunner called us from up ahead to say that they had crossed a snow patch and Kenneth had turned back and was headed our way. We had gone for a mile with no sign of tracks but had found an energy bar wrapper along the way. Kenneth had been walking down the center of the road so everyone was careful to stay off to the side including the quad runners. Just before the quad runners got back to us, we came across really fresh tracks coming back toward us.

Good print near animal scat

At this point we were really puzzled. The quad runners arrive as we continued to yell out for Kenneth. We all headed back down hill and came across a fresh energy bar wrapper, which contributed, to the puzzle.
 Energy Bar Wrapper

and ran into the other deputies who found track on a lesser trail below and parallel to us. The entire group spent about an hour in the brush finding an occasional track in the snow patches but to no avail. It was speculated that he had been in this area during daylight hours.

At about 0200 hours the deputies decided with Russ that we should all head back to the CP. I was glad since my day had begun at 0400 the previous morning and I was flat out tired. We covered about 8 miles on and off trail based on my GPS readings.

My GPS readout
We got a ride the final two miles back to the CP and I signed in at 0300 hours. As we headed back an additional group of volunteers who had arrived later were heading up the road. I downed a quick cup of coffee from Martin and headed back down the hill. I arrived home at 0400 hrs. which is when I usually arise in the morning! I called dispatch and logged off. 

Our helicopter, “Eagle One”, located Kenneth later in the day and, a team was sent in to help get him back. I don’t know the particulars yet on what was going on in Kenneth’s mind but I am glad he is safe again.

In terms of gathering of useful evidence, boots on the ground is number one. Probably the main three takeaways from this were the necessary good communication between teams and the CP,  the ability and patience to track a subject at night and the necessary fitness required to begin a lengthy and arduous search at the end of a day.

1 comment:

  1. For those interested in SAR stories, I wrote a book about several Fresno County SAR searches in which I participated.