MADERA COUNTY – A day of training for Search & Rescue personnel and dog teams turned into the real thing Saturday afternoon when a 12-year-old autistic boy went missing in the Sierra National Forest just south of Shuteye Peak.
A group of amateur radio operators were spending the day on a geocaching project about 15 miles north of North Fork near Browns Meadow.
Two brothers wandered off from a group of family and friends, and when one brother was located, the other was nowhere to be found.
Being amateur radio operators in an area with no cell service, the group was able to contact law enforcement to request assistance with the search for the missing boy.
Many of the Madera County Search & Rescue (SAR) team had spent the day at Soquel Campground north of Oakhurst, participating in a Rescue Dog training program, and had not yet wrapped up the day’s activities when the call came in around 3 p.m.
Over two dozen searchers – including deputies, Citizens on Patrol, and volunteers – responded to the area, along with two of the Rescue Dog teams. They were assisted from the air by CHP’s H70 helicopter out of Paso Robles.
A Command Post was established at the intersection of Forest Service Roads 8S09 and 7S04. Lt. Tyson Pogue, who was in charge of the operation, set up radio communications while Sgt. Larry Rich lined out the searchers into their designated grids.
The searchers were presented with a bit of an additional challenge when family members related that the autistic boy was not social, and may hide if he heard people approaching.
An article of the boy’s clothing was provided to the dogs for scent, and the teams set out in search of young boy, who reportedly had not eaten in many hours and had no water.
Most of the searchers were on OHVs and ATVs, and others were on foot, prepared to work into the night as they equiped themselves with headlamps and plenty of water.
“The boy had a four hour head start, and a 12-year-old can travel a long way in that amount of time,” said Lt. Pogue.
Deputy Paul Chetwood, who was already on duty patrolling the mountains on an ATV, also reported in to the Command Post to join the search.
Chetwood stopped to talk with some campers along the roadway, who reported seeing a young male walking down the road a couple hours earlier, heading towards Mammoth Pool Road.
Just before 6:30 p.m., the call came across the airwaves that Chetwood had located the youngster, and that he was very excited to be found.
“I am lost,” he told the deputy. Astonishingly, the boy was about four miles away from camp, as the crow flies, and had covered many more miles than that on the winding mountain road.
“When his brother saw him, he ran up to him, hugged him and started to cry,” said Sgt. Rich. “It was a great ending to a long, hot day.”
Rich says this very best of outcomes would not have been possible without all the volunteer help from the SAR team, OHV team and the Ham radio club who were first on scene and called for help and started the search. Lt. Pogue echoes that sentiment.
“This is a true testament to these guys, that they would train all day in the sweltering heat, then go straight into a SAR mission without complaint and with such enthusiasm to reunite this family,” said Lt. Pogue.
The boy and his family are from Fresno.
Interested in becoming part of the SAR Team?
Madera County Search & Rescue is actively recruiting new members. Volunteers take part in mandatory monthly training missions in order to maintain the required skills as well developing new ones.
To save a life would you: Hike into forbidden wilderness; ascend a mountain peak; crawl into an abandoned mineshaft; trudge through hot sand; or plunge into racing white water rapids?
Volunteers with the Madera County Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue team do all that and more in their struggle to provide life-saving services to those in need. Searches can be as grueling as they are time consuming. Sheriff’s volunteers come from all walks of life, but have one thing in common – compassion for their fellow man.
The following SAR Teams are utilized by the Madera County Sheriff’s Department: Dive Team, Technical Team, Foot Searchers, Posse, 4×4 Team, Canine and Overhead Team. Many members of Madera County Sheriff’s Search & Rescue Team are cross-trained, able to assist when and where they are needed.
For more information on Madera County Search & Rescue, visit http://www.madera-county.com/index.php/search-a-rescue
Are you interested in becoming part of the team with a Rescue Dog?
Founded in 1976, the California Rescue Dog Association (CARDA) is a 501(c)3 non-profit, and the largest volunteer search dog organization in America.
CARDA’s mission is to train, certify, and deploy highly-qualified search dog teams to assist law enforcement and other public safety agencies in the search for lost and missing persons.
CARDA search dog teams have participated in thousands of missing person searches and have saved public safety agencies millions of dollars through the use of volunteer resources.
To learn more about CARDA, visit their website at http://search-dogs.carda.org/