Slow and Steady

patrick walkerBy Patrick Walker

Early on a misty June morning in Redwood Regional Park, in the hills between Oakland and Moraga, my dad and I were running ahead of the pack on a 20-mile run with my Boy Scout troop. This annual run helps us train for a summer High Sierra backpacking trek.

We were about 12 miles along and passing through a grove of ancient redwoods, quiet and still in the fog, when I noticed in the distance someone hunched on the side of the trail. It didn’t look right.

As I drew closer, I saw a person sitting with legs crossed, his head bowed and hidden inside a cinched hoodie. My SAR instincts and training immediately took over. I stopped a few feet away and asked him if he was OK. He did not respond. I spoke louder and authoritatively. “Sir, are you okay?”  He shook his head.

I asked him to remove his hoodie so I could see him and with slow, deliberate movements he obeyed my request. He was a Caucasian male in his mid-20s, unshaven and bewildered.

 “Can you talk?” I asked. He responded with a scarcely audible, “I think so.”

“Are you hurting?”

“I’m cold. Very cold.”

I asked how long he had been there. He said he came to the park the night before to “clear his head,” became disoriented when it grew dark and lost his way. He wandered in the night and eventually gave up trying to find his way back to his car and eventually found a place to sit down. He had endured a very cold and lonely night and was shivering, hungry, cramping up and confused.

I told him I have had medical training and could help him. For the first time, he looked up and offered a slight smile.

I asked if anyone would have reported him missing. With a touch of melancholy he said, “No one is expecting me back except my boss.”

I asked him to stand up. He was cold and stiff.

A couple of miles away was a Cub Scout camp where I knew they had fire, food and warmth.

“Can you walk?”

“I can try.”

Slowly, we began our trek. After a while, we passed members of my Boy Scout troop running along the path. They were surprised to see me going the opposite way. I told them that I was taking a break from the run to help someone. When I encountered the leader of the troop, he said, “Geez, Patrick, you find lost people even when you’re not looking for them!”

Our journey was painstakingly slow as he clearly was not well physically and maybe mentally. I was glad my dad was with me because I’m not sure I would have been comfortable alone with him. I suspected drugs or alcohol may have been an issue and he could have been suicidal.

As we walked slowly beneath the redwoods, he spoke. He said he felt lucky that we found him, and he said he appreciated our helping him. He asked my name and said his was Jeremy (name changed for privacy).

A half-hour later we made it to the Cub Scout camp. The troop had a fire blazing, hot chocolate and hot food, and the Scouts were generous in sharing it with Jeremy. I left him there with my dad, and then ran several miles further on to where a ranger lived. After explaining the circumstances and Jeremy’s current status, the ranger said he would take over and transport him to medical treatment.

I returned to the camp and Jeremy was seated by the campfire with a cup of hot chocolate, now warmed up, even smiling. We said our goodbyes and I rejoined the 20-mile run.

I was now in last place instead of first, but I knew that what I was able to do for a fellow human being – thanks to my training and experience on COCOSAR – was far more important than winning a race.

A Great Result

- Article from MercuryNews.com

Luba Lusherovich, 77, was found in the Norris Canyon area after 185 search and rescue personnel from nine counties converged on San Ramon to help find her.
Lusherovich walked away from her family's home near Bollinger Canyon Road and Marsh Drive, and efforts to find her grew more urgent as the days passed.

Kelsey Lusherovich, Luba Lusherovich's granddaughter-in-law, said the family was notified that the elderly relative had been found and that she was taken to a hospital to be evaluated but is expected to be OK. The younger woman said the older woman was conscious and talking, but dehydrated.

"I'm ecstatic; frankly, this is a miracle," she said. "She had no food, no money, no water … I don't know how much more miraculous it could get."

San Ramon police Sgt. Hollis Tong said she was found near a creek on Norris Canyon Road. Search and rescue dogs from the California Rescue Dogs Association first found a shoe, then a piece of clothing.

The handlers notified the command post at 2:15 p.m. that the dogs had picked up her scent and followed it to a house, where they found her, conscious and smiling, Tong said.

It was Ammo's first find, said handler Sonya Roth of her yellow Labrador retriever. "I was so excited I was shaking when we found her," Roth said. "That thrill … that's why we do this. Ammo may have saved her life."

Search-and-rescue crews from Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara, Marin, Sonoma, Solano, San Mateo, Napa and Sacramento counties concentrated their search Saturday near the hilly area of Norris Canyon Road, near Castro Valley, and near the family home, Tong said.

There had been concerns that Lusherovich, a friendly European immigrant who once helped to teach kindergartners in Walnut Creek and Pleasanton, may have left the area, even though she left home without money. She also was without her medications, Tong said.

A police officer saw her on Norris Canyon Road as it heads toward Castro Valley around 2 p.m. Wednesday, but police had not yet been notified that Lusherovich was missing.

Police grew more worried as the days ticked by without finding her. More than 100 civilian volunteers came out Saturday to help search. "Everyone from all walks of life came out to find Luba," Tong said. "Time was of the essence."
 

Closure – The Gene Penaflor Tale

By John Banuelos
 
The year 2013 has certainly has been one of the more challenging years for CoCoSAR missions. In recent months, CoCoSAR has sought subjects in remote locations, subjects who were either found deceased or not found at all. For a searcher, any searcher, this is not the desired result. We all live for the words “found in good health.” But even just the word “found,” which can be code for “found deceased,” provides closure for families.
 
Closure is important for all – the best case obviously being “found in good health.” But even just “found” allows a family and friends to address their goodbyes to the spirit of a loved one. As searchers, we return to our regular lives knowing we have provided some form of comfort either way by answering the question, “Where is our loved one?”
 
penaflor aGene Penaflor disappeared while hunting on Hull Mountain. For days local SAR teams worked the high-probability areas, seeking to find this experienced, 72-year-old hunter. SAR and Sheriff resources deployed in a multi-day search effort.  Everyone wanted him found as the cold and impending bad weather of the year was coming, but nobody wanted him found more than his family and his longtime hunting partner. Hope of success filled the air over many days.
 
Like all the SAR members on Hull Mountain, Gene’s family and friends stayed the long days and cold nights on the mountain. They prayed for good news as SAR members returned from assigned searches. They helped as best they could in determining where their beloved family member and friend might have strayed.
 
Eventually a search must be called when the search team feels it has done its best. In this case, the decision to stop carried a great burden for the search manager and every searcher: The family had stood watch at the edge of the operation center waiting for news, any news. How do you tell people who love the subject that volunteer resources need to return home, high-probability areas have been covered multiple times, and the impending poor weather may prevent a safe continuation of effort? In truth there is no easy way to do this.
 
We all hoped for good news before the final decision needed to be made. We quietly talked among ourselves about staying on despite the impending weather. Yet, the hour came when SAR members and family stood together for that final talk. The families and friends understood the choices and decisions that had been made, they thanked everyone for their efforts, and then the tears came. There was to be no closure for them on that day.
 
Seeing the tears of a family was a new experience for me, but hearing the sobs of sadness from his longtime hunting partner resonated even deeper. A searcher asks him/herself many questions. Can I stay and help this family? Did I search hard enough? What more can I do? One does not wish to leave with the memory of these quiet tears and heavy sobs.
 
gene penaflorStill in the end, we searchers left, pondering on the long drive home, “Did I do enough?” Even as regular life resumed, the memory of those tears and that question continued to haunt us.
 
Lack of closure is the worst of all situations for all involved; no one is untouched.
 
But for Gene Penaflor the miracle of miracles occurred. For 19 days he survived, lost and injured in a remote canyon. He was found by hunters in the area, and then recovered by SAR and Sheriff resources. He was returned to the smiles and happy tears of reunion with family and friends.
 
Closure was, after all, granted. And relief was granted to all who left amidst the sad tears of that day, for Gene had been “found in good health.”
 
Addendum:
The following was written for another who was found deceased. It is my source of courage for searches to come. I call it my SAR prayer.
 
My uniform lies on the chair. My gear is next to it. My silent prayer continues, “May no one be lost or in silent distress shrouded by the darkness. But should they be, we will go out to search for them until found.”

Mission Summary: June 2013

  • 6/9/2013 – Bike to Bridges. There were four CoCoSAR bikes involved. There was some confusion about how much of the ride was to be covered (of the 25 miles) and one member of the group had difficulty about halfway through the ride. It was suggested that there should be a policy to state that riders only have a partial area to cover.
     
  • 6/24/13 – A hiker (35 years old) called his family as it was getting dark and said he was lost on Mt. Tamalpais. Shortly after that, his phone battery died. Marin searched in the night and called for mutual aid first thing in the morning. CoCoSAR was en route when the hiker self-rescued. Read team member John Hubinger's write-up of this callout.
     
  • 6/28/13 – Sheriff’s Office SERT competition. Twenty SAR members attended the SERT competition and were tasked with crowd control rather than medical. There was no ambulance standing by, however, and there were two injuries and five heat-related issues. 

Mutual-Aid Callout, Marin County

By John Hubinger

On June 25, CoCoSAR received an early-morning mutual-aid call to a search in Marin County at the Bon Tempe Lake on the north side of Mt. Tamalpais. We would be looking for a 38-year-old male who had been hiking in the early evening when he realized, as it was getting dark, that he was lost and contacted his family just before his phone batteries died.

With the fog and rain, this was June’s coldest day so far.

Teams from Marin SAR had been called out at midnight and approximately 20 team members began searching around 1 a.m. The Mutual-aid callout happened circa 4 a.m.

Self-transporting, I arrived at the CP just after 8 and shortly thereafter we heard that the subject had been located in good condition.  At about 8:25, the subject arrived at CP mildly hypothermic, wet, tired, confused and wrapped in a blanket. The incident commander asked me to get the subject a cup of coffee, so when I brought it to him, I was able to listen to his debrief. 

Here is what he said:

After sending a picture text to his family, the subject became aware it was getting dark and he was still about three hours out. Trying to return to his car, he took a wrong turn and instead, headed in the opposite direction. At about 9:30 he called his family saying he was lost and soon after that his iPhone batteries died (so now he had no communication, map or light). He walked another hour until the trail ended, then made the decision to stay put for the night, huddling by a tree and using his hoody for cover and shelter.

At first light, he started to retrace his path and eventually was able to find the right trail. Several teams came very close to him, both at night and that morning, but none saw him.

After his debrief by the IC commander, he was given a full medical by a team of paramedics and the SAR personnel were debriefed, thanked and dismissed.  

Lessons learned:

·       Many moderately experienced hikers go out for “day hikes” without proper clothing, food, water and navigational information.

·       It is not uncommon for hikers to rely too heavily on smart phones (or GPS), only to find they don’t get reception, they run out of batteries or that the phones are of limited value – in this case all of the above!

·       Remembering that a landmark such as a lake was on the “right side” going out and therefore now should be on the left side coming back, doesn’t help if the lake in question is a different lake and you have no map or position on a GPS device.

That last point became clear to me after the assignment was over because I chose to stay to explore and hike the unfamiliar area. I retraced the path of the subject (the path he outlined was fairly clear). About three hours into my hike/run it became quite clear where he might have been when he made that “I think I’m lost” phone call. The whole retrace took me about 6.5 hours (with GPS, water, charged phone, map and some gear – no pack, but more than I usually take trail running on my own). It was interesting to imagine myself in the boots of the lost hiker at the point where he spent a cold uncomfortable evening.

I-Team and K-Team Cultivation Extraction

By John Banuelos

IMG_2579

On an island, a solitary figure awaits the arrival of a support force. He waits in the darkness of a moonless night ready to direct small squads to their final objectives. He listens for the slightest sound of their approach. Some distance away three captains maneuver their sleek, fast boats through the maze of waterways, avoiding the dangerous shoals but moving as fast as possible with their precious cargo of elite squads.

The I-Team stands ready in their camouflage gear, with weapons primed, ready to be the first to step off. Their K-team of search and destroy specialists check and ready their equipment. With quiet nods to each other, members of the K-team signal to all they are ready.

On the stern of one fast boat stands a lone figure. He is former Airborne and a Vietnam veteran. He knows the dangers of this kind of mission, in waters such as these. He alone understand the reality …

And the reality is my daydream was interrupted by a large wave that came over the side onto me as I dozed on the deck of a Sheriff Office (SO) boat. Let’s rewind and start this tale again.

Investigations (I-Team) had once again requested the assistance of CoCoSAR members for the clearing of another marijuana field, an emerging skill set of the team. In this case, this cultivation had been grown on one of the delta’s many islands. This was a first for CoCoSAR.

Our departure was in the early morning (not on a moonless night) of Wednesday, June 5, from the docks of a marina. Three SO boats carried investigation team members who were dressed in their camouflage gear and vests and armed. Along with them was the “klean-up” (K-Team) squad of 18 volunteers armed with gardening tools. Some of us carried our own specialized set of tools honed just for these occasions (machete, anyone?). While we were no Seal Team Six assault force, we all went with the required enthusiasm to do the job and do it well.

Our inside man was the island manager. Upon our arrival onto his island, the leads of both teams went inside the manager’s home to evaluate intel and island maps. Based on the aerial photos, two teams were formed to complete a form of seek and destroy on different parts of the island. Plants were to be completely eradicated and all equipment removed from the island.

One squad went on foot to its appointed location, while a second squad crowded onto a truck and was transported to its. Both squads found their assigned field. Clean lines of growth, three to eight plants across, stretched for 100s of yards. All these lines of cultivation paralleled rows of trees that helped to hide these plants from view. Intermixed with these plants was an effective irrigation system.

Plants were removed and readied for destruction. Irrigation pipes were cut up and bundled for removal. While tools had been brought in to assist in this effort, it was found that these plants could easily be pulled out by hand. Within hours, both squads completed their assigned mission. Time was spent doing additional reconnaissance for other grows in other possible sections of the island. But, no additional grows were found. Our mission was done.

Upon our return we were all able to enjoy the simple pleasure of a cool day, with a warm sun on our faces and the pleasure of delta waters as we sped home. We were mission successful.

IMG_2581

(Photos: Mikel Kinser)

Mission Summary, April

April 2nd
The Hasty Squad received a call on the evening of April 2 and team members were sent to the San Pablo/El Sobrante area where they began a hood-of-the-car search for a mentally challenged 59-year-old male who had left a group home a few hours earlier. The search was conducted from a small parking area, mostly with driving routes, although there was one dog team sent out on foot right away.
      
The subject was found, safe, by an AMR ambulance crew not far from Doctor’s Hospital, within a few hours of mobilization.

Mission Summary, March

During the month of March, there were two callouts, but only one became a search.

March 9th
The team was preparing to leave for Brentwood to look for a Danville woman who was considered at risk, but the woman was found shortly after the call went out to the team.

March 16th
The full team was called for a mutual-aid search in Lake County. The subject was a missing 12-year-old last seen the morning of March 14. CoCoSAR was asked to join the third operational period.

The original search was on Cobb Mountain, but after purported sightings, the search had been expanded to Lakeport and Kelseyville. Forty-one searchers from CoCoSAR were on scene. Some were sent to Cobb Mountain, while others conducted an urban search, handing out flyers door to door.            

CoCoSAR was handed the management of the entire search for that period, which meant managing over 100 searchers. Marin County took responsibility for one division and CoCoSAR the other.         

Communications were very difficult and the search was logistically challenging, but it went smoothly. After several hours, the girl turned up at her brother’s home in Santa Rosa.

Mission Summary: When Rigging Gets Real

By Matt Shargel

When the callout comes, you never know how it will turn out; we need to be prepared mentally, physically, and with gear and training at all times!  This year’s callout to Marin on New Year’s Eve was a reminder of this SAR truth.

Part 1 – The response to the subject
When the call came that the subject had been located and a carryout response was needed, CoCoSAR was first in line at the trailhead.  Team members opened the MRG truck and pulled out the gear.  The role of chief rigger was assigned and we grabbed the litter with backboard and straps, sleeping bag and blanket, the MRG rigging gear bag, and the two full-length rescue ropes.  Many hands made the work relatively light heading up the trail.  As the equipment and searchers reached the end of the path however, we realized the challenge we were facing.

The hike in consisted of 1) about a quarter mile of flat single-track pathway; 2) about a quarter of a mile of steeply off-angled dirt and rock-strewn stream bank; and 3) about a quarter mile of rocky, narrow, and flowing streambed.

Part 2 – Carryout along the streambed
Below you will find a description of the rigging for the middle, sloped stream bank section during the carryout.  To find out more about the first quarter mile of carryout through the flowing streambed you’ll need to talk with someone who was there; it is the stuff of legends and cannot be justly told on paper!

Part 3 – Rigging the traverse
Objective: Provide a running, belay-strength, hand line to protect the litter from a fall along a sloped side of a stream.  The line was rigged to guide pulleys attached to the upper hand rail of the litter.  Three rescuers, one at head, foot, and side, worked the litter down the steeply angled “pathway.”   And even these three had a hard time putting much force into the litter due to the steepness and narrowness of the terrain.

  1. One end of a 60m line was attached to a large tree growing in the middle of the stream, about 20 feet upstream of the litter.  A tensionless anchor clipped with a carabineer was used at about shoulder height. While we usually rig ropes lower to the ground for strength, the rope would be running up onto the stream’s hillside, so a higher anchor was needed.
  2. The rope was trailed down to the litter crew to rig the pulleys, then off the stream and up the bank a ways, heading downwards along the side-stream bank. 
  3. To protect against a fall down the bank and into the stream, several anchors were tied along the length of the rope.  Due to the limited and widely variable anchors, some rigging creativity was needed.  Several anchors were webbing wrapped around tree bases or thick branches.  A minimum diameter of four inches of healthy wood was a guiding principle when judgment of anchor strength became critical.   One anchor consisted of two lengths of webbing connected with a water knot in the middle.  The top was tied with a tensionless hitch around a tree about 40 feet above the hand-line rope.  The bottom had an overhand on a bight with a locking carabineer attached.  For one section particularly void of trees, a 4×4 wooden post and a piece of rebar were put into the system.  Clove hitches at the base of each gave them a combined strength.  A second 60m rope was tied in when the first ran out.  The terminus of the whole safety line, in an area again void of just the right tree, was the base of a large clump of what looked like elderberry and buck brush.  The difficulty in crawling around the base one time made the multiple wraps of a tensionless anchor prohibitive, so a bowline with its tail tied off would suffice. (“Better is the death of good enough!”)
  4. The traverse line also needed to be tensioned to minimize the fall distance in the event of a slip or drop of the litter team.  To provide this running tension, and to provide tied-off sections along the line, a munter hitch was used at many anchors.  Once tied, a few rescuers would haul on the running end of the rope, pulling slack out of the system.  The munter was then tied off, under tension, with a mule hitch, and backed up with a clipped carabineer.  In one or two spots, even this was not possible due to the combination of bushes and terrain so a simple butterfly knot sufficed.
  5. The last 100 feet of the side banked section involved a descent down to the waiting litter wheel.  This slope also had enough of an angle that we decided to include a second belay line, in addition to the first tensioned traversing rope.  Two riggers from Marin jumped in for the task, throwing a wrap three/pull two around a sturdy tree.  To the best of my foggy memory they used a scarab device for the lower … but that may have been just a dream …. In fact all of this record could fall into that category so you should probably fact-check it at our next team training with everyone else that was there!

Part 4 – The thank you’s
In the midst of the emergency there is such an awe-inspiring but often invisible chain of hands.  When the need arose for more webbing, or carabineers — poof!  They would appear.  When the litter had passed by a section — poof!  The ropes were derigged almost by magic.  When my footing was poor as I was tying a critical knot — poof!  Hands from below steadied me (their footing must have been even more unstable).  Snacks were shared – helmets, gloves, and goggles passed to those in need … poof, poof, poof.  And how much more goes unnoticed!   The honor of occasionally being the tip of the SAR spear requires reflection and recognition of the TEAM who puts us there.  Don’t we all hope to be those mysterious steadying hands, standing ankle deep in the stream holding someone else up?

Bayesian Search Analytics and the Professional Searcher

By Chris Nichols

The recent Pleasant Hill search provided a simple example of working with Bayesian statistics to quickly find a subject. An efficient search is a balancing act between accurate field information and the allocation of resources by search management. The interplay between the two is one of the many activities that distinguish the lay searcher from the professional searcher.

For starters, the professional searcher thinks in terms of defined areas. This allows search management to better manage operations.

Another aspect is that the lay searcher is looking for the subject, while the professional searcher is also looking for clues and, almost as important, finding areas of where the subject is not.

Finally, one of the largest differences between lay and professional searchers is that the professional searcher thinks in terms of probabilities. Where a lay searcher might clear a trail and determine the subject is not there, the professional searcher might conclude that there is a 50 percent probability that the subject isn’t there. While the difference might seem slight, the practical application is huge.

Using the Pleasant Hill search as an example to pull this together, our team was on scene two hours after the subject went missing, allowing us a limited search area. Because of the behavior of the subject, we narrowed down the high probability areas to two segments. Search management now had a path to manage field teams. However, we still didn’t know if the subject would go north or south – this is where Bayesian statistics came in.

Since the subject could have turned left or right equally, we divided Contra Costa Blvd. into two segments, one south (Segment A) and one north (B), each having a 50-percent probability. We sent the first team south. Let’s say they came back with a probability of detection of 30 percent. We now can work the math so that our new probability of area (POA) equals (1-30 percent) X 50 percent / 1-(50 percent X 30 percent), or 41 percent.

Since the probability of area A goes down, that means the probability of area B goes up even though it has not been searched yet (a 0 percent of probability of detection). This can be proven in the formula 50 percent / 1-(50 percent x 30 percent), or 59 percent. Thus, Segment A’s POA went down from 50 percent to 41 percent after the first team completed its assignment, while B’s went from 50 percent to 59 percent.

We now can put additional resources into B (which we did) to bring down the probability. The inclusion of our old probability of area of 50 percent is what makes this a “Bayesian” calculation, after mathematician Thomas Bayes came up with theory in the 18th century. The inclusion of our old probability in the calculation serves to “anchor” our estimation closer to reality vs. other statistical methods.

After picking up some clues in the Pleasant Hill search, we started to flood the area with searchers in Segment B where the subject was eventually found. This mission provided us with the most basic example imaginable. Adding more segments would have complicated things fast, as we would have recomputed the POA for each segment searched and not searched. If we have 25 segments, as we often do, that is 25 x 25, or 625 computations per debrief. This is one reason why we keep a set of laptops handy in the CP.

Most important, the above calculations are mathematical proof that field teams are effective even when they don’t find the subject. Knowing that we have a reduced probability of Segment A allows a higher probability of success for the team searching B. If taken to the extreme, we could end up with the statistical probability in the final unsearched segment of something approaching 100 percent.

While a team injected to that final area would surely make the find, the mathematical reality is that the team searching that segment did comparatively little, as it was only through the effort of all the other teams in all the other segments that pointed the search manager to put that team in the final segment. This is why search and rescue is truly a team effort.

Next to staying safe, accurately assessing your probability of detection so the above analysis can be as precise as possible is one of the most important items you can do. No matter what your experience, having knowledge of how resources are allocated will not only help you better understand the search process, but will improve your capabilities as a professional searcher.