The Road Less Traveled By Made All The Difference
I was a member of one of two ground teams in a winter SAR exercise. Our objective was to locate a lost hunter. The weather was severe clear, so we had an aircrew out searching with us. A friend of mine was in the other ground team; he and I had completed the same Ground SAR school the previous summer. We were both confident in our skills. One of us, perhaps, was too confident in our own abilities.
It just so happened that the aircraft located the objective quickly that day. Piece of cake! All we need to do is follow their instructions and we can get to the survivor. Now, it just so happens that we had about 3 inches of new snow that morning. The aircraft vectored both teams to a very large, rural, public park. My team was behind my friend's, so we were pretty sure that we'd just be cleanup on this mission. Oh well, right? We're all on a big team working for the survivor, so we'd might as well get as much training out of this as we can.
The aircraft vectored both teams (via radio) to a trailhead that had a single set of tracks leading down it. The airplane informed us that these were the tracks of our missing hunter. We were told to follow these tracks up until the point where they departed the trail. We had been clamoring to follow the other ground team this whole time, and this was no exception. It was at this point, however, that the first ground team decided to follow those tracks and not the aircrew's instructions. My team was confused by this, but they distinctly told us, "DO NOT FOLLOW THE TRACKS. Follow the PATH for another 200 yards." We did so, and about that distance a clearing formed off to the right side of the path. In that clearing was a man sitting on a tree stump. Our GT's medics went in to investigate. He was our objective! This was too easy!
Our "survivor" was a USAF Reservist CAP-RAP Officer helping with the exercise. When "academic situation" was called and he came out of role, he told us that he purposefully left the trail on about a mile's winding, zigzagging hike through the snowy woods. He knew the area well enough to double back to a spot near the path, and he also knew this would accurately simulate a confused hunter. This was all well and good, but now we were waiting for the ground team that had held the lead the entire search. They showed up about half of an hour later. When they saw how much quicker our lagging team had arrived, and how close to the path we were, they complained of radio problems. Y'know, its a funny thing, but I heard one of their radios squawking when the aircraft decided to return to base...
Morals of the story: Don't follow the guy in front of you: he probably doesn't know where he's going either. Trust the aircrew in the airplane. Don't think you're smarter than they are when you think you see a hot lead: they can see a lot more from up there! They can almost always tell you the quickest way from point A to point B. If you think the aircrew is going to lead you astray, ask them to explain why they want you to proceed with a certain course of action. Plain English on the radio is a good idea in such cases. Don't let radio procedures get in the way of a rescue.
This page of the CAP Emergency Services Resources™ website was last updated 07/01/2008
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