Grant County Sheriff Office Search and Rescue Coordinator Dave Dobler said there is one common denominator when it comes to safely hunting, hiking, and traveling in the wilderness.
“Always expect the unexpected,” he said.
Dobler, who is also deputy with the Grant County Sheriff’s Office, said the county has averaged three search and rescue missions a month for the past year.
There have been many instances when a person traveling to the outdoors has not communicated with family members or others about their whereabouts or when they’ll return.
“It’s a statewide problem,” Dobler said.
He suggests families make a plan. If someone is hunting, they should be responsible for sharing where they are going, follow that plan, and be sure to call if circumstances change.
People spend big on a pickup, scope or rifle, he said, “but not $200 a year on a satellite device and service.”
A satellite phone is one of the two most important safety tips Dobler recommends.
The other is having fire-building materials and skills.
Had Mark Larsen, 73, of Crooked River Ranch in Central Oregon been carrying a cellphone or fire-starter, he could have been rescued a lot sooner than the 10 days it took SAR to find him. He was eventually found Sept. 13 in the Fields Peak area southwest of Mt. Vernon.
Larsen did a few things right, including leaving a map for his wife with his planned location.
He also packed appropriate hunting equipment as well as food and water. However, upon arrival, he stepped out to stretch his legs with a walk in the woods and became disoriented.
The bow hunter took no backpack and was wearing only a T-shirt and jeans — brown in color — and slip-on shoes with no socks.
“He went northeast ... farther into the mountains and away from anyone that could aid him,” Dobler said, adding that almost any other direction would have sent him toward a road or people.
Fifteen agencies spent a total of 1,800 hours looking for Larsen.
“We had SAR from Eastern and Central Oregon and the Willamette Valley,” Dobler said. This included air and ground search and rescue dogs.
One of the reasons Larsen survived the 10 days included warm weather for the elevation — temperatures reached a low of 55 degrees, and there was only one night with rain and wind.
A hunter found Larsen and waved a large blue tarp, which helped airborne searchers locate the man.
He was flown to Blue Mountain Hospital in John Day where he spent three nights before being released, Dobler said.
Dobler said there was cellphone service available where Larsen was found, and a fire would have helped airplanes find him.
“Carry two good quality lighters, always, in your pocket,” Dobler said. “Right now, I have two quality lighters in both my front pockets. Bring flares or fire starters — they may be crucial, if you need to keep warm.”
Lucas Francesco Cavalle, 38, went missing on Fields Peak last December and died in subzero temperatures.
His body was recovered Dec. 6 after a three-day search.
Dobler believes the man had tried to light a fire, but he may have waited too long and conditions were windy. He added that fine-motor skills are the first to go when a person becomes cold and may be scared.
The search and rescue team currently has 34 members, and Dobler would like to see that increase to 50.
Many hours are spent fulfilling training requirements. There will be an open application time to join SAR in November and December with interviews beginning in January.
About 40 hours of training will take place in March, April and May, with a combination of evenings and some Saturdays, followed by a test.
“There are lots of different things people can do as part of the SAR team, but they need to be able to follow instructions, be a good fit for the team and team player,” Dobler said. “In SAR, we have a lot of fun but it’s mission oriented.”
Ongoing training includes monthly meetings, two evening trainings per month and one Saturday a month.
“We keep busy,” he said.
Team members also present information to the public, including at three outdoor schools each year. Search and rescue crews also teach a Hug a Tree program to teach elementary students what to do if they become lost.
The county gives SAR a $5,000 budget, which includes the cost of vehicle maintenance.
“I think there is a public misconception that SAR has a lot of money,” he said.
He said they do receive some money through fundraisers and donations from rescued individuals, but acquiring rescue-rated equipment is costly.
Dobler said the importance of making a plan can’t be emphasized enough.
“Our volunteers are missing sleep, family time and work time to manage these searches that end up not being a search, just miscommunication with the family,” he said.
He said that during a recent late-night search for a man, who was in no need of rescue, a SAR team member totaled his vehicle when he collided with a deer. Those damages were not covered by their organization.
One man didn’t want to drive an hour to reach cellphone service, so his family didn’t receive the message that he’d planned to stay out longer, he said. That resulted in an unneeded search.
“A waste of resources,” Dobler said.
Though Dobler said the hours and requirements can be a challenge, the search and rescue crews are a tight-knit group that helps each other out.
“There is a sense of gratification when you find someone,” he said.
Crews recently found a woman who has diabetes who became lost with her 9-year-old daughter.
“She was completely disoriented,” Dobler said. “Paramedics checked her out and the SAR took her to her family, and that is just very rewarding.”
• Tell someone where you are going and when to expect you back.
• Have a plan and stick to it.
• Check the forecast before leaving. Carry warmer clothes in case temperatures drop.
• Carry a flashlight and batteries. Don’t rely on your cellphone for light — you might need all the juice it has left if you get lost.
• Bring flares and fire starters, including two quality lighters. Don’t wait too long before building a fire, if needed.
• Bring a whistle, in case you lose your voice.
• Don’t hike alone.
• Carry a satellite phone or charged cellphone.
• Carry a shovel and chains. Strips of carpets can also be helpful if a vehicle becomes stuck.