ATV Adventures: Search and rescue teams make backcountry safer for ATV riders

Thursday , March 02, 2017 - 5:30 AM

LYNN R. BLAMIRES, ATV Adventures columnist

County search and rescue teams are made up of volunteers who devote time and their own resources to making the lives of other people better. Under the authority of the county sheriff’s department, each county has arrangements for their own search and rescue teams.

It is not cheap to be a SAR team member, and it is not easy to qualify to be one. Volunteers are on standby to go out on risky assignments and bring back people who are lost or injured in the backcountry.

Their service is so valuable and yet teams have a difficult time finding financial support for their work. Donations are always welcome.

There is a story behind every SAR adventure. In 2009 in Davis County, a man with special needs had a side-by-side UTV with hand controls. He was on the mountain above the “Bountiful B” enjoying the trails when he took a trail he hadn’t seen before.

As the trail descended, he realized it was too steep. He was halfway back up the trail when his wheels hit an exposed root that caused the machine to flip over.

He hung suspended upside down for two hours hoping someone would come down the trail and find him. His hope grew dim as a storm blew in on the mountain bringing a steady downpour.

Unbeknownst to him, a SAR team had been activated shortly after he did not return home. A crew of 50 men searched the mountain for several hours.

Because of the storm and failing light, they were about to call off the search when one of the men decided to look down one more path. They found the man unconscious with no pulse and with a low core temperature. The SAR team successfully revived him, got him off the mountain and to a local hospital.

A SAR team is activated by a 911 call from a concerned individual. The operator will direct the call to the sheriff’s department who oversees SAR operations.

The investigation begins with interviews to determine last point seen, clothing worn and items carried. The investigation will continue even after the search begins with the investigation team feeding information to the searchers.

A few years ago, a Yosemite hiker was reported missing. The SAR team searched for three days only to find out that he was on the east coast with his girlfriend — a fact his wife was not happy about.

In another case, the investigating team pinged a cell phone and determined that the missing person was 60 miles away from the area where the search was focused. A cell phone can give information even when it is not active.

Four climbers found the man hanging from a cliff. He had been stung to death by killer bees.

The search team uses a highly-sophisticated approach to find lost people, including statistical probabilities from a lost person behavior database to develop likely scenarios based on whether the person is a hiker, skier, ATV rider or a depressed person. Each scenario gets its own search plan and team of volunteers.

Spots of containment are used to station SAR members to intercept the subject. These could be a few or a lot depending on the terrain. Search areas are set in segments bordered by natural land features. People tend to take the course of least resistance. Searchers will check the obvious places first and then those less likely.

Other resources such as dogs or helicopters may be called in to help. One of the latest pieces of technology to be used by SAR teams is the camera-equipped drone.

Of the lost people that are found, 85 percent are found within the first 12 hours, and 97 percent are found within 24 hours. People who fall into the last 3 percent prove to be tough to find.

The resources allotted to the search increase as the mission goes on. Starting with a few searchers that number will increase as needed. This coordinated effort continues until the subject is found or the search is called off.

When you go riding, take plenty of water, keep the rubber side down and if you get lost, make yourself easy to find.

Contact columnist Lynn R. Blamires at quadmanone@gmail.com.

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