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Fifty Sense: Common Sense Ideas for Thriving after 50
Fifty Sense: Common Sense Ideas for Thriving after 50

The Trials of a Search and Rescue
Mission for a 72 Year Old Man
by Becky Rigers, Team Coordinator

Rescue dog and handler August 2010, our Search and Rescue team was dispatched on a call in the mountains of Western Maryland for a missing 72 yr. old man. He had gone ginseng hunting with his friends, although at the time, it was illegal since it was "out of season". Another team member, her K-9 Partner and myself headed out for the search. (My dog Rocket was not "operational" yet).

Storms had been through the area just as we arrived at base camp. Usually, they give us a map, show us our search area, and we are on our way. Today, because of the location, and difficulty getting there, we had an escort. We finally made it to our starting point of the search area, and as we are gearing up, the ranger tells us "just be careful, there's a rattlesnake den in your area." ...NICE!

OK, now I'm bringing my poles for sure! So off we go, praying for more rain to keep the snakes at bay, and just as luck has it, about 50 yards into the search, I dang near step on a snake! Holy Cow! (not my words exactly, but close) Wait a minute, it's only a garter snake. Ok, I can breath now! Oh yeah, we're suppose to be searching for a lost man, not snakes!

We finally make it to the edge of the ridge, and now there's nowhere to go but down...down...down... Terrain so steep, there's no searching the middle of the mountain...matter of fact, there's no standing on your feet as we try to walk down it either! It's all butt! Miserable as it was, we figured out how to slide on our boots so we didn't tear up the bottoms of our pants.

I'm pretty sure it was a good half mile straight down. We made the best of a bad situation, even turning it into a race to see who could slide down the fastest! Somewhere in between the top and the bottom I lost my camera, and I sure as heck wasn't going back up to look for it!

When we finally made it to the bottom we had another surprise. Nettles! Now for anyone who has ever touched a nettle, well, you'll never touch one again! Thank goodness I had gloves on, but they were so thick, we couldn't even see our boots! They were completely covering the stream, so unless you walked in the water, you got stuck in the nettles. Ugh! Can this search possibly get any worst? Why do I ALWAYS get the crappy areas???

At this point, it was getting late in the day. All we wanted to do was make it back to our vehicle. If this dude was that stupid to go into these woods, and illegally hunt ginseng, then let him stay there!!!! (Not usually our attitudes, but this search seemed to be the exception!)

We decided to walk up the stream since it was neither steep, nor full of nettles. I thought, oh what the hell, I'll call the guys name just for something to do. As I hollered, I heard someone holler back! I looked up and there he was! I said, "Holy shit Debbie! There he is!" My partner Debbie said "What? "Are you kidding?" We absolutely couldn't believe we had a "find".

You have to understand, making a find in your search area is like playing the lottery and actually winning. Chances are just so slim. The first words he said to me were, "You didn't bring the game warden did you"? I was like...What? Are you kidding? That's all he was worried about? Now I just really wanted to leave him there!!!

After checking the guys health status, we decided he would be unable to walk out on his own. He had a history or health issues. Next challenge...no radio signal, no cell phone service. Great! So we had to do something that we NEVER want to do. Split up. Debbie, (my partner) and her dog Loco, stayed with the subject, and I had to...yes...climb the hill from hell. Not the one we came down, but the other side.

Actually, I crawled up it because it was so steep. I think I finally made it to the top Fourty-five minutes later, nearly ready to pass out! Finally! Radio signal! I couldn't reach base, but could reach another team who was able to relay our messages. Less than 5 minutes later, Maryland State Police helicopter was flying above with the help of GPS coordinates I read to them. Unfortunately, they were unable to drop down a basket due to the thick foliage.

Nearly two hours later, we finally had enough people to carry the man out in a stokes basket with a wheel. It was a two mile hike from our location to the ambulance. As they loaded him in, my partner and I just laughed when the ranger asked him when he wanted to go to jail, now or later!

What a miserable, awesome, invigorating, and rewarding day!

I love my job!

If you would like to know more about Search and Rescue, check out this page: http://www.k9-search-and-rescue.com/

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