As we headed out to meet the dog handler we would be working with, we were all given copies of an information sheet on the lost person. His name was Larry. He was developmentally disabled and was with residents from a San Jose group home. Larry had wandered away from camp the afternoon before. He was last seen headed up canyon, to the south and east, but his counselor reported that he was basically lazy and wouldn’t continue going uphill. We had instructions to approach him carefully if we found him…not because he was considered dangerous, but to keep from spooking him. We were instructed to offer him candy bars and to say that his counselor, Richard, sent us.
The picture on the hand out was interesting. It was a poor photocopy of Larry’s photo ID. Several of us noticed at the same time that the person in the picture could have passed for our crewleader, Glen! I tapped him on the shoulder and said “Hey! Richard sent us. You want a candy bar?” Glen didn’t think that was very funny.
The primary way Yo2 assisted on this incident was by performing grid searches. We were assigned a meadow or a piece of land, spread out in a line on one end of our assigned area, and swept from one end of our assigned area to the other. It was critical that there were no gaps in the line just in case the victim was lying unconscious behind a rock or a log. We had to be constantly looking behind us and under places where a person could be injured, or even hiding from us intentionally.
Dogs assisted in the search as well. On the first morning, Dave found a footprint from a shoe that was about the same size and tread design as the one we had been shown was Larry’s. A dog and handler were brought over to check it out. The dog seemed more interested in chasing a stick than in following the trail. It seemed to us that the dog wasn’t doing his job. We weren’t happy when the handler took his dog to go search somewhere else. Later we talked to another dog handler about this. He told us that all of the dogs had been shown Larry’s scent, and since the dog was more interested in the stick than the print, the dog actually was doing his job by letting us know the print was not Larry’s.
For our last search before sundown, we were assigned to a larger area right outside the Tuolumne Meadows lodge in a populated area. We were being teamed up with an experienced volunteer SAR team. We met them outside the lodge and Erin and the volunteer leader coordinated how we were going to conduct this particular research. Before we started the search, Erin and the volunteer leader gathered everybody around for a pep talk and a reminder of basic search techniques. Erin said, “Remember to be constantly looking behind yourself, too. Under logs and behind rocks. It would be easy to miss a body behind a log.”
A sour look passed over the volunteer leader’s face as he looked around at the tourists within earshot. That’s all we needed, for a rumor to start that we were now looking for a body! The volunteer leader broke in over Erin and said, “Yes, an unconscious person could be easy to miss if he were laying behind something.”
Whew. Dodged that one!
Larry was still missing at the end of the first day.