Search, rescue season heats up
Despite a winter of inactivity and the delayed introduction of warm weather, the summer season for the search and rescue team for El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department has been hopping.
So far this summer there have been 20 calls for searches or rescues with two major undertakings, said Deputy Mike Sukau. The annual average is 35 to 40 rescues.
“We’re back to getting (search and rescues) on a regular basis,” Sukau said.
Earlier this month rescue personnel were notified of a missing 64-year-old man from the Netherlands who set out for a short hike from his campsite at Showers Lake wearing a sweater, jeans and sandals.
A woman camping with Arnold Cohn, Trijintje Hazeleger, reported Cohn missing a day after he didn’t return to the campsite. Sukau said Hazeleger had the common misperception that one should wait 24 hours before reporting someone missing.
Cohn disappeared on a Tuesday and on Wednesday night a hasty search composed of a California Highway Patrol helicopter, foot teams and two dogs teams combed the area.
On Thursday, the searched resumed, with an additional helicopter, horse teams and a group of off-road vehicles.
Cohn was found that day, about four miles from his camp site, by a U.S. Forest Service trail crew. He had mild dehydration and some minor cuts. He declined to go to the hospital.
Two days before Cohn’s intended two-hour tour, another massive search was conducted to find Andrew Sewell, 59, who vanished in October after he set off for a mountain bike ride at Echo Summit. A snow storm may have stopped Sewell’s trip short. Bones believed to have been Sewell’s, along with a mountain bike and backpack containing his driver’s license, were found during the search.
Search and rescue also looked for Sewell in October but were stymied by winter weather. The search resumed earlier this month.
Typically 50 to 75 percent of search and rescue calls are from the 60,000-acre Desolation Wilderness, said Sukau, who attributed the surge in rescues partly to people visiting Tahoe to escape triple-digit heat.
Suzy Lancaster, who manages Desolation for the Forest Service, said the agency has issued 1,200 permits for people to stay in the expanse so far this year.
On average, 100,000 permits are issued each year for day and night use, Lancaster said. Last year was considered a blip with 80,000 permits being issued, she said.
“In the last couple of weeks we’ve seen a huge increase of use out there,” Lancaster said. “It’s like summer’s finally here.”
Sukau said anyone interested in becoming a search-and-rescue volunteer should contact the sheriff’s department at (530) 573-3000.
Those preparing to hike Desolation Wilderness or anywhere else in the backcountry should bring plenty of water, a map and compass, wear sturdy shoes, and carry food, warm clothing and flashlights as precautionary measures.
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