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Old 02-25-2020, 02:37 AM   #1
cab2321
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Search and rescue response

Have you ever called 911 while lost in the wilderness? If so, do you want to share your story with me?

My name is Claire Bryan and I'm a reporter at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. I'm working on a story about search and rescue and how the process works in the state of New York.

In addition to being a reporter, I'm an outdoor educator and I care about hiking safety a great deal. This background led me to work on a story about how the search and rescue process works and potentially address any gaps in that process. I'm examining county protocols and both local agencies and state agencies role.

Please reach out to me here or at claire.bryan@columbia.edu if you have an experience to share. Thank you.
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Old 02-26-2020, 04:44 PM   #2
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Calling 911 is great for general emergencies, and can never be said to be the wrong response. However, you ask about being lost in the wilderness. The NY DEC Forest Rangers would normally end up with the message from 911 dispatch for a wilderness incident, and sometimes for other rural or urban responses as well. They are by far the best trained and equipped to effect a rapid and complete response to a successful and happy ending. Everyone is encouraged to have the DEC emergency dispatch numbers with them when traveling in the wilderness. Rangers have the resources and organizational practice and skill to run a most efficient successful incident. When the incident goes critical or long term, they know when to call in other needed resources, including trained volunteer SAR teams from the NYS Federation of SAR teams, or even the general public for assistance. When the general public does appear (as is common for long term or well known incidents) Rangers and their trained volunteers know how to manage the situation. I have been on SAR incidents wherein local law enforcement has taken responsibility as the lead SAR agency, which is their right, but rarely do these incidents go nearly as well or smoothly as similar DEC lead events.
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Old 02-26-2020, 09:38 PM   #3
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Everyone is encouraged to have the DEC emergency dispatch numbers with them when traveling in the wilderness.
I agree with this 100%, especially since by calling the DEC directly you'll usually get more professional and better equipped resources headed in your direction more quickly. The one caveat I would add is that as I understand it, the DEC's dispatch does not have the ability to get a GPS ping off of your cell phone. In fact, in some instances, DEC's dispatch will instruct callers to hang up (after having communicated all pertinent information) and dial 911 to get a GPS fix off of the cell phone, which can then be relayed by the 911 dispatchers back to the DEC.

And the home rule thing for NY can be tough (the fact that technically, local emergency crews can claim jurisdiction over backcountry incidents, superseding the DEC's authority). I'll never forget the time I called the Albany DEC dispatch to report a ground fire in the Catskills. The DEC dispatcher proceeded to forward my call to the county fire dispatch, who immediately said "you want the DEC." The county then forwarded my call to the personal cell phone of a Forest Ranger who's assigned patrol area was no where close to where the fire was. (I was eventually able to get a hold of the right Ranger who I presume was able to put the fire out.)

(And that was all after having dealt with a completely useless 911 operator from the get go, who couldn't get over the fact that there was no address for the incident I was calling to report.)
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Old 02-27-2020, 05:26 PM   #4
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(And that was all after having dealt with a completely useless 911 operator from the get go, who couldn't get over the fact that there was no address for the incident I was calling to report.)
Not surprising, as they are probably not used to having things happen at a place without an address.
We even have problems when we've done hikes with the younger (Cub) Scouts where everyone is meeting at the hike location (generally the smaller local nature areas) that parents are surprised you can't give them an address so they can use GPS to find it (as most of those also don't have an exact address).
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Old 02-29-2020, 03:58 PM   #5
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We even have problems when we've done hikes with the younger (Cub) Scouts where everyone is meeting at the hike location (generally the smaller local nature areas) that parents are surprised you can't give them an address so they can use GPS to find it (as most of those also don't have an exact address).
I've had this problem even with friends that hike regularly- including one instance that resulted in a panicked mother calling the DEC to report her adult offspring missing after we'd contacted the mother to see if she'd heard from our friend- it turned out that she'd gone to the wrong trailhead by accident.

Now, when my friends and I meet up for backpacking trips, I send an email that includes detailed written out directions to the trailhead, as well as a link to pre-generated Google Maps directions. No one has gotten lost on the drive to a hike since I started doing that.

And 11 years later, we still haven't let our friend live down the time that she got lost and "had to be rescued by the DEC," a story that gets re-told on every group backpacking trip (naturally, with increasing embellishment as time has gone by).
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Old 02-29-2020, 10:08 PM   #6
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A few years ago, DEC thought it was being smart and moved dispatch operations to Albany and hired new reception agents to answer the phones. A few times of being told something like persons thought they were lost "near deer pond", with Albany without a clue where in the heck or which deer pond it was, DEC then decided to bring dispatch back to HQ in Ray Brook, where at least the old experienced agents had a familiarity with named locations in the Adirondacks.

Maybe DSettahr remembers this one...
I don't know if the following incident was a result of dispatch inexperience or not, but I recall once at about that time when a GPS location was sent out to rangers for a small plane crash near Lake Placid. Normally, GPS format is given in DD.ddd, but it was originally interpreted as DD mm.mm (or maybe it was vice versa). In this case the sequence of digits were such that they made sense in either format, though in when interpreted wrongly, the two actual locations are several miles apart. You guessed it, the rangers went to the wrong location and it took a while to figure out where the downed aircraft actually was.
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Old 03-02-2020, 12:43 AM   #7
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" You guessed it, the rangers went to the wrong location and it took a while to figure out where the downed aircraft actually was."

An airplane normally has an ELT and when triggered through a crash squawks 7700 on every IFR equipped landing field for a 1000 miles. They know exactly where the plane is.

Unless its an ultralite or hybrid.
Often after passengers are removed from a small plane the ELT is sometimes left on which will produce much calamity from any major airport due to the transmitter still sending the signal for hundreds of miles.
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Old 03-02-2020, 02:36 PM   #8
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Maybe DSettahr remembers this one...
I don't know if the following incident was a result of dispatch inexperience or not, but I recall once at about that time when a GPS location was sent out to rangers for a small plane crash near Lake Placid.
This is probably the incident you're referring to:
https://dailygazette.com/article/201...rs-was-miracle
https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2013/02...e-adirondacks/

My impression at the time (have not re-read all the info) was that it was (fundumentally) a case of "human error" (miscommunication) - the gps coordinates were read back to dispatch (IIRC) and something somewhere didn't 'click'.
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Old 03-03-2020, 09:17 AM   #9
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An airplane normally has an ELT and when triggered through a crash squawks 7700 on every IFR equipped landing field for a 1000 miles. They know exactly where the plane is.

Unless its an ultralite or hybrid.
What about Experimental designations? "The Federal Aviation Administration says the Vans RV-10 experimental aircraft departed from Somerset Airport in Bedminster, N.J, and was headed to Lake Placid Airport when it crashed."

The only one I'm really familiar with is the berkut.
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Old 03-03-2020, 10:07 AM   #10
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The incident I like to cite as a reason not to call 911 was on Phelps several years ago. A couple hiking up about 1/2 mile up from the Van Hoevenberg Trail encountered an older man who had fallen and broken several tarsal bones in his foot. Very painful and his condition could correctly be characterized as immobile, but his condition was far from life-threatening The couple tried their cell phone but had no service. They proceeded to the summit where they could call 911. Unfortunately, the call was picked up by a tower in Vermont, so it was Vermont 911 that received the call. They referred it to Vermont State Police in Burlington that in turn called the NYS Police in Plattsburgh, that called NYS Police in Ray Brook that finally called DEC. DEC dispatch called Marcy Dam and the caretaker was dispatched to aid the individual. However, with all the transfers of information the report that reached Marcy Dam was of "...an elderly male unconscious on the summit of Phelps." As a result, the caretaker ran right past the injured hiker saying that someone was near death on the summit. Eventually it all worked out, but how much easier if the couple had just known to call DEC dispatch.
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Old 03-03-2020, 05:49 PM   #11
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While we're on the subject, are these numbers in your contacts?
Emergency:
DEC in Adirondacks: 518-891-0235
DEC outside Adirondacks: 518-408-5850

I also keep the numbers for regions where I frequently camp and where I live in my contacts.
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Old 03-03-2020, 11:01 PM   #12
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What about Experimental designations? "The Federal Aviation Administration says the Vans RV-10 experimental aircraft departed from Somerset Airport in Bedminster, N.J, and was headed to Lake Placid Airport when it crashed."

The only one I'm really familiar with is the berkut.
How about the one John Deutschendorfer ran out of gas in? You might know him as John Denver. Some small planes come with a parachute which when deployed allows the plane to get to the ground safely - unless it encounters trees or water or a mountainside. Years ago as a member of a fire department in a mountain community with an air field I have been asked to go to a crash site to remove and shut off the ELT. That airport ate a lot of planes. Inexperienced pilots forget to take into consideration mountain top airport altitudes, (thinner air) and when executing touch and go experience touch and crash into the trees. One such fuselage crashed in between two trees and broke both wings off. They got hurt but survived. The problem sometimes is getting to the crash with extremely rugged terrain. I am sure Wilderness could relate to that. On one occasion I was the first to get to the airport and saw a ball of fire on the runway. My heart sank as I wondered what happened to the pilot. Knowing there was nothing I could do for him at that juncture I went to the pilot lounge and saw a man holding a small dog. He had RG on his plane and the gear failed to come down hence the props were 90 degrees bent in half. After the crash the pilot opened his door and his little dog ran out. He followed to try and catch the dog when the wreckage exploded. The dog had more sense than the pilot and was the reason the pilot survived. But I am rambling here.
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Old 03-04-2020, 12:01 AM   #13
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Reminds me of the crash site of TWA Flight 260, which crashed near the crest of Sandia Peak, NM in 1955, killing all. I was certifying as an accident investigator at the Air Force Aircraft Accident Mishap Investigator Training School at Kirtland AFB, near Albuquerque when I learned of the old crash site. I decided to bushwhack up the mountain to find it on the weekend. I took a number of photos of the wreckage, all still there and made a short video slide show to show to my class. During the class training we learned how to carry out a crash site investigation by inspecting physical parts and researching events leading up to the mishap. They had all the pieces from a number of different types of aircraft that had actually crashed in different locations, and placed the components in the desert training site in the relative orientation that they had actually been found. Our job was to determine what happened in detail and find primary and secondary causes. It was a lot of fun, and I regard this two week class as one of the best short courses I ever had in my AF career (next to SERE). Fortunately, (or unfortunately, depending on point of view) I was never later called upon to do a real site crash investigation, other than to do a tabletop report of a drone crash.
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File Type: jpg TWA260.2.jpg (102.8 KB, 134 views)
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Old 03-04-2020, 10:39 AM   #14
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Old 03-05-2020, 10:17 AM   #15
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Since the plane crash near Lake Placid ended up in this thread, I guess I'll continue the drift away from the OP and post some photos I got of that crash. The State Police were guarding the trailhead until 3 PM that day, but after that I and my dog started up the Jackrabbit Trail. A short distance after the final crossing onto state land, obvious tracks came in from the left. I had short, wide skis on and managed to get through some blowdown, but eventually it became steep enough that following the tracks on foot seemed easier. My 40 lb dog was struggling a bit in the deep snow, and I began to wonder whether I had time to actually get to the crash site. Then, my dog suddenly bounded past me and headed up. Aha, I thought, the rangers brought food to the crash victims, and it didn't all get eaten, and the dog smelled FOOD. Sure enough, I was soon at the crash site.
The three photos show the cabin and the tail section caught up in a tree. I appeared that the plan spiraled in and went between two trees that ripped off the wings. The cabin hit a small birch that let it down slowly (relatively anyway) with the tail section also helping bring the cabin to a stop. All survived virtually uninjured. "Any landing you walk away from is a good one?"
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Old 03-12-2020, 08:41 PM   #16
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I know we're off the original topic here, but I have to chime in with some crash history.

In December of 1965, four of my uncles were hunting in Hogtown (Fort Ann) when one of them came upon a plane crash. A little girl was alive but her parents didn't survive. I interviewed my uncle in 2015, 50 years later, for an article in The Chronicle in Glens Falls. There were actually two crashes that night, the second on French Mt.

As a result of my article I was contacted by a man whose father owned a Toyota Dealership in Lake George at the time. He had a Land Cruiser and drove several authorities to the French Mt. crash site, recovered the corpse and drove a bunch back down; all hanging off the sides of his vehicle. It was an interesting follow-up.

In my early years we hunted the area where my uncle found the crash, but it is on private land (I refuse to say where) and we no longer can hunt there. We always called it Airplane Hill.

Some time ago, ADK Life documented several crashes, including the Pilot Knob one, but they left these two out.
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