SAR volunteers cover almost 500 muddy miles in search of lost man

SAR volunteers search for a lost man in the Beaver Dam Wash area of Washington County, Utah, Dec. 4, 2014 | Photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff Search and Rescue, St. George News

WASHINGTON COUNTY – It was a long day of mud and wet weather for Washington County Search and Rescue volunteers Thursday as they searched for a man whose vehicle had become stuck in a remote area near the Utah-Nevada border late Wednesday night. The man became disoriented and subsequently got lost while attempting to find his way out on foot.

“We (were) in cloud banks (during the search) and we couldn’t see anywhere, and it’s easy to get disoriented in that,” Search and Rescue West Side Ground Commander Joe McArthur said.

At about 11 p.m. Wednesday, the man, who had left his home earlier that evening in a pickup truck, became stuck in the west mountains near the Beaver Dam Wash area. The man called his wife from a cellphone and was able to electronically send her a map showing the relative area he was stranded in before his cellphone battery died.

“We didn’t get called until 7 o’clock (Thursday) morning, so he was out all night walking in the rain and cold,” McArthur said.

McArthur and the other SAR responders, who are unpaid volunteers using their own equipment to assist in search and rescue missions under the direction of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, began their search for the lost man early Thursday morning. Six vehicles and approximately 10 SAR volunteers combed a 50-square-mile area searching for the man.

Typically, McArthur said, if a lost person calls 911 from a cellphone, the dispatcher can pinpoint their location using GPS coordinates. In this case, however, dialing 911 instead of calling his wife may not have helped the man.

“Out where we were, out behind the hill, it wouldn’t have done any good because you don’t have three towers to triangulate from,” McArthur said.

Using the map the man sent his wife before his phone battery died, rescuers were able to narrow down his relative location; but the map only provided a spot location – no GPS coordinates – so they still had a lot of ground to cover.

“Me personally, in my vehicle, I probably covered 80 miles (Thursday),” McArthur said.

With all six responder vehicles combined, about 480 road miles were covered in all, he added.

The search continued for approximately 10 hours before rescuers were able to locate the man. Because the man had attempted to reach a more populated road on foot rather than staying with his vehicle, rescuers had to locate two targets in the course of their search: the man’s vehicle and the man himself.

By the time responders found the man, he had covered a lot of ground on foot.

He was probably about 15 miles from where his truck got stuck,” McArthur said.

In a situation like this, McArthur said, it’s best for a lost or stranded person to stay where they are. Walking likely helped the man stay warm and keep up a sweat, he said, but it’s more difficult for rescuers to find someone who is on the move.

Rescuers found the man west of Lytle Ranch, McArthur said. The man was tired, wet and thirsty, but he had been dressed warmly, so he was otherwise in decent shape.

“It all turned out good,” McArthur said.

“The lost person is back with his family, safe and sound,” he added.

McArthur, who has been a search and rescue responder for 25 years, said though it costs the SAR volunteers personal time and money to go out on a search – many are called away from their jobs or businesses to respond and, like volunteer firefighters, they don’t receive payment for their efforts – the reward comes when a search is successfully completed and a grateful person is safely returned to an equally grateful family.

That’s what it’s all about is us helping our neighbors,” McArthur said.

“The reason I do it is because if any of my kids were lost, I would hope somebody would help me go find them,” he added.

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3 Comments

  • My Evil Twin December 5, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    Another great job by our local SAR folks! Thanks for all you do!

  • PROTECT THE SHEEP December 5, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    I never owned a jeep, but that has got to be one bumpy and jarring ride over that many miles

  • GetyourselfaGPS December 6, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    So much wrong with what this guy did, I guess that’s why they didn’t say who it was. First of all stay put, especially if someone is coming to find you, you will stay warmer in your truck. People without sense of direction should not go out in the hills, or this case, the desert. Fifteen miles from Lytle ranch is Beaver Dam, I guess he couldn’t see the lights, didn’t know which way south was. Water runs down hill. down hill is Beaver Dam, south of Lytle Ranch. Glad he was found!

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