MARIPOSA COUNTY — According to area law enforcement officials, “multiple positive factors” influenced the successful rescue of 74-year old John Van Dinther in Mariposa County on Jan. 25.
On Wednesday, Jan. 22, Van Dinther was last seen on Bear Clover Road in the Jerseydale area of the county. Later that day, his children reported him missing shortly after 4 p.m., and the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office launched a search and rescue effort.
Van Dinther ultimately spent three nights in the wilderness and was eventually located in Clark’s Valley, approximately two miles as the crow flies from his residence. He was cold, dehydrated and tired according the search officials, but was uninjured. He was transported mid-day on Jan. 25 to John C. Fremont Hospital for treatment and evaluation.
“This was the outcome we all hoped for,” said Mariposa County Sheriff Doug Binnewies. “Our SAR (search and rescue) members and our partner agencies train and train. It’s great to have a win, as so many responses end differently.”
Mariposa Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Kristie Mitchell explained that there were several factors that were favorable to this successful search and rescue operation.
“We had a lot of ground and air support from all of our partner agencies, including dog teams, and we really caught a break with the weather conditions. There weren’t freezing temperatures which are common this time of year at that elevation, and it didn’t rain or snow, which could have really hampered the search,” Mitchell said.
The Jerseydale area of Mariposa County is around 3,700 feet in elevation.
“This is one of the longest searches ever conducted in Mariposa County,” Mitchell added. “Probably the only one longer was for the individual known as ‘Grandpa Doug’ several years ago.”
“We don’t know the path he took so it’s hard to estimate how many actual miles he walked. Search teams in the area were calling out John’s name and heard him making noises. The searchers continued walking and calling out his name until they ultimately located him,” Mitchell posted on the sheriff’s office Facebook page.
Through regular Facebook posts and alerts issued through the sheriff’s office app the community was kept informed on the progress of the search effort, sparking hundreds of social media comments and good wishes.
“Our multi-agency review showed that this was a ‘textbook SAR operation,’ meaning all the boxes were checked,” said Sheriff Binnewies. “As the days passed, anxiety rose, but our searchers were wholeheartedly dedicated to the effort every day. This missing person’s actions, while lost, mirrored the missing person search data that builds our response and search tactics for his age and condition. A lot of data is collected from these search missions, which helps create the data that we use to help us design search areas and prioritize them.”
“I couldn’t be more happy with our SAR team members and managers. In addition, the many partner agencies that sent resources from all over the middle of the state were very qualified and anxious to help. The terrain was difficult, and at some times described as impenetrable, but searchers stayed focused. Ultimately it paid off. They did an outstanding job and have a very good reason to be proud of themselves,” Binnewies added.
Reportedly, Van Dinther who is 6’1″ tall and 160 pounds, is an avid daily walker and he could have covered a lot of ground in the three days he was missing.
The sheriff’s office, through its mutual aid agreements with other search and rescue agencies, provided food to the searchers in the way of pizza and sandwiches, all purchased locally.
As experienced searchers, those who stayed overnight camped at the Sierra National Forest fire station on Jerseydale Road, which served as search headquarters during the effort.
“We would like to thank the approximately 100 professionally trained search teams who dedicated the last four days searching in very rugged terrain, looking for John,” Mitchell posted.
Search teams assisting the search and rescue team were Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit, Monterey Bay Search Dogs, Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, California Rescue Dog Association, Merced County Sheriffs Office, Marin County Sheriffs Office, Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office, Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office , California Explorer Search and Rescue, San Mateo County Sheriffs Office and Madera County Sheriffs Office.
Air support teams included the CHP helicopter H-40, the Air National Guard and Navel Air Support from Lemoore.
Anyone interested in joining the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team can email firstname.lastname@example.org, or stop by the sheriff’s office in Mariposa to pick up an application.