About a week ago, I was stunned to see on the news that Budge Brown, founder of the Manteca waterslides, was missing on a plane flight from Nevada to his ranch in Tracy. Search and rescue units searched for several days before finding the wreckage of his plane in a rugged Sierra Canyon. My heart goes out to the Brown family and my prayers are with them.
While the outdoors is a wonderful place to discover nature, yourself and a host of other things, there are risks that go along with the experience. Fortunately there are also people whom I call Search and Rescue Angels who dedicate their time, money and expertise to search for lost and injured outdoor enthusiasts. The people they serve can be downed pilots and small plane passengers, skiers who have wandered away from the established trails, missing hunters, or anglers. Heck, I recall when my friend Darrel Phillips was washed off a bridge and volunteers searched for days to recover him. Sometimes The Search and Rescue Angels are wildly successful and a lost child or angler is returned alive to his family. Sometimes, they have the solemn task of recovering a body so that loved ones can have some closure. Regardless of the outcome, these Search and Rescue Angels are always real life heroes.
Where do these heroes come from? They come from the most unlikely sources, they come from us. They are ordinary citizens who take time from their lives to help others in need. They volunteer in the Civil Air Patrol, the Sheriffs Mounted Posse, the Houndsmens Association, and the local Volunteer Fire Department. They train constantly and are available at a moment’s notice. They spend their own money and get very little thanks, yet still they serve. Sometimes, they risk their lives to rescue the life of a stranger.
Getting lost in the wild seems to be a great fear for some folks and prevents them from enjoying the wilderness experience. “What happens if I get Lost?” always seems to be looming in their minds. Heck, getting lost is half the fun. I remember finding a stream in the headwaters of the Feather River drainage where you could set up your camp, and catch four different species of trout (Brooks, Browns, Cutthroats, and Rainbows) within a 30-minute walk. I’d have never found that spot if I hadn’t been trying to get lost. Actually what should worry me is what if I’m out in the wilderness and have an accident and can’t get out. I had a really close call with a rattler in The Merced River Canyon, and fell and seriously hurt my knee. I was able to walk out only because I had a prescription pain killer in my fishing vest. A broken leg, sprained ankle, or snakebite could really foul up a wilderness trip.
While I’m not a huge fan of high tech gadgets, there is an interesting concept in search and rescue technology that might be a real help to wilderness enthusiasts. Personal Locator Beacons, or Personal Satellite Rescue Systems, were authorized by the FCC in 2003 and use SARSET technology (Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking) which is operated by the U.S. Governments National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. If you get lost or injured and need to be rescued you just push a button on your PLB and it sends out a signal that’s picked up by one of NOAA’s satellites which continuously orbit the earth. Your distress signal is then forwarded to a message center in Maryland who then notifies the nearest local search and rescue unit and tell them where to find you.
If you find yourself with a broken leg in the back country, or snake bite on a wildflower hike, or trapped by a flash flood in the Grand Canyon, the search and Rescue Angels will come for you. All the high tech stuff is great, and I heartily recommend its use. Still, when a plane goes down, or a hiker goes missing, it’s the Search and Rescue Angels who are there when we need them. The next time you see a volunteer Firefighter, Houndsman or Posse member or Civil Air Patrol Pilot, tell them “Thank You”. They are heroes who walk among us.
Until next week,