GCSAR attends Search and Rescue Conference | SkyHiNews.com

GCSAR attends Search and Rescue Conference

Greg Foley

Earlier this month a group of Grand County Search and Rescue members attended the Mountain Rescue Association (MRA) Spring Conference in Estes Park.

This year’s conference was held jointly with the National Association for Search and Rescue and the Colorado Search and Rescue Board. Over three hundred search and rescue professionals from all across the country participated in seminars, lectures and hands on demonstrations. There were about 60 presenters across the various SAR tracks: Rescue, Search, Canine, Air Rescue and Medical. Internationally, there was representation from Canada, Australia and Costa Rica.

Besides the learning environment there was ample opportunity to harvest some face time with counterparts from all over to discuss various search and rescue topics, make new contacts and visit with old friends. I chatted with the Costa Ricans about the types of rescues that they do in their country and debated the pros and cons of new technical rope rescue techniques with rigging specialists who are putting them into practice.

With several break-out session opportunities during each time slot it was difficult to decide which to attend. Having some other team members there took the load off.

GCSAR member Paul Robertson presented a well-received seminar on enhancing backcountry radio communications.

The most interesting session for me was a breakdown of the search for Damian and Evan McManus, father and son, who were lost and perished near Mt. Evans in February, 2014. The pair had left for a hike from the Echo Lake Lodge without telling anyone where they were going, over the next few days it snowed 40 inches. After their car was discovered, a massive search entailing thousands man hours over several months was coordinated by Evergreen based Alpine Rescue Team.

The abandoned car was the only clue – except for cell phone forensics.

The majority of the lecture described how cell phone data from each of the subject’s phones was used to help focus the search area. Cell phones leave a bit of information each time the phone reaches out to a tower, even when the phone is not being used. The information recorded gives a time, a general direction and a rough distance from the various cell towers.

Viewshed mapping is a technique that plots on a map where each cell tower has service. By combining a viewshed map with the data from the carriers a SAR technician can get a better idea of where the missing subjects were and at what time. Maybe even a direction of travel.

A map produced from the McManus’ cell phone data was compared to geotagged photos from their camera, demonstrating a consistent correlation.

The Colorado National Guard demonstrated helicopter hoist operations, moving a patient in a litter into a helicopter with the support of a SAR ground crew. GCSAR will be participating in hands on training with this operation later this year in Eagle.

At the MRA Award Ceremony, GCSAR was recognized for our 30th Anniversary. I was honored to receive a certificate for 35 years of service.

The keynote speaker on Saturday night was Tom Hornbein, a retired physician and former member of Rocky Mountain Rescue in Boulder. Hornbein’s claim to fame is his climb of Mt. Everest in 1963, just after the first American ascent by a team led by Jim Whittaker. He and his partner, Willi Unsoeld, ascended the much more daunting and unclimbed West Ridge and descended by the standard South Col route. This first traverse of Mt. Everest has been described as one of the greatest feats in the history of mountaineering. Since 1963, only four other mountaineers have completed this route.

Hornbein gave a little history of search and rescue in Boulder in the 50’s, his early days climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park and of the Everest expedition. He finished by expressing his ideas about the value of risk versus reward and how personal attitude can lead to success or failure.

Next spring the MRA Conference will be hosted by Olympic Mountain Rescue in Port Angeles, Washington, between the Puget Sound and Olympic National Park. We are looking forward to sending a few members to attend.


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