Cops & Robbers (7A) “A Deadly Search “
Posted on June 22, 2011
A Deadly Search
If you ever spend any time in Search and Rescue, or any type of First Responder involvement, you will experience tragedy. The unnecessary tragic. Needless death. The pointless waste of human life, talent, ability and potential. I had already seen good men stuffed into disinterested, uncaring body bags, and neatly zipped up. On the tuna boats, I had seen the loaded body bags, stowed in the frozen fish holds. And living men, working away, alongside their dead former ship mates, working the catch.
Life and Death, strangely and intimately intertwined, almost lovers, in an eternal embrace.
Death comes in many forms, and death comes to young people, barely starting out. Of all these forms of Departure from this crazy ride, this mad ticket we all use just the one time, there is a particular method of Unforeseen Departure for the “Young and the Free” that seems to me particularly heart breaking.
Dispatch called me one morning, to launch immediately. No information. Having been sitting around once again for a week, with nothing to do except twiddle my thumbs, I positively bounded out of my chair.
What I did not know, that this was going to be a trying day, a real test of judgment, and a very close call for me personally. A very close call. I was to make a classic mistake, and learn a very valuable lesson.
The details started to come in over the radio. An ATV rider in the desert, had come across a pickup, stuck in soft sand. Stretched out, dead as a door nail, behind the pickup truck, was a male in his thirties. Fit, well built, muscled. Very, very dead. Presumably from heat stroke, and over exertion, trying to free his truck from the cunning grip of the desert. The temperature, even then, before eleven in the morning, was climbing through a hundred. It was to peak at a hundred and ten plus a while later.
What was worse, if that is possible, was that a second set of footsteps were leading away from the truck. Straight into the desert. If that wasn’t bad enough, a search of the cab had revealed a copious supply of drug paraphernalia. Meths. Evil, evil, wicked stuff. Destroyer of Youth. Destroyer of Happiness. The Sheriff’s office, pouring in man power, moving with lightning speed, identified the deceased, and contacted the family. From urgent inquiries, it was soon established that we were looking for a young girl, early twenties, tall, slim, long blond hair. His companion. I heard all this passing over the radio, while still enroute. For some reason, I felt very confident. The helicopter would soon fix that. Find her in a jiffy.
I swooped down, and an observer ran out, and jumped in the helicopter. Young guy, early thirties, fit, strong. Soon we were searching the desert, and the small canyons, the rock beds, behind the boulders. It was more difficult than I thought. There were millions of places an exhausted, delirious person, wandering alone in the desert, could hide from the sun and heat.
Heck, this is not going to be as easy as I thought…
There were also lots of rough, prickly, small bushes. Just the sort of limited shade, where we had to look. She could well be passed out, unconscious, and unable to respond to the sound of the helicopter. We searched, and searched.
The sun was climbing into the sky, and the heat was becoming unbearable. I was guzzling water, but it seemed to be pouring out of me faster than I could possibly replenish it. My observer too, was suffering. Prior to the arrival of the helicopter, he had been literally running through the desert, looking in all the nooks and crannies, under bushes, behind boulders, everywhere. He was already exhausted when he entered the helicopter, but now the strain was beginning to tell on him. Fifty times we would land beside some gorse bush, and fifty times he would leap out, check underneath quickly, and then come running back to the helicopter. There was a note of panic in his voice now, and the radio chatter too indicated extreme concern. It doesn’t take long to succumb in that sort of devilish heat. It was like an oven, out of control…
My observer was now becoming slightly incoherent. His face, behind the running sweat, was taking on an ominous pallor. On top of everything, I was now becoming deeply worried about him. The heat was killing both of us. You just couldn’t breathe properly.
The ground searchers were doing the best job they could. Every available volunteer was being called out. The Search and Rescue Sergeant was a crusty old pro, excellent at his job. But his voice was now betraying the stress.
The clock was ticking…
Several times he called the helicopter. They could no longer follow her tracks, as she had crossed onto hard, stony ground. But they had found an item of clothing, discarded. A white T-shirt. A bad sign. When people become delirious, they start shedding their clothing, often ending up naked. This only massively accelerates the overheating of their body, and the dehydration effect.
I was busy straining my eyes, wondering how many times I was going to criss-cross that section of desert, when my observer’s voice, calm as can be, floated in over my headsets:
“Put this thing on the ground, I’m going to pass out…!”
I glanced at him in astonishment, just in time to see his eyes roll peculiarly upwards, and his body slump forward against the straps. His head rolled to one side, and he was out cold.
There followed this exchange over the radio, and I’m told it has become a bit of a classic in the History of the Sheriff’s Office.
Me: “Sam 3, Air One!”
Him: “Air One, go ahead!”
Me: “Sir, I’m landing, and I need another observer…”
Him: (crossly) “What’s wrong with the one you’ve got??”
Me: “He’s unconscious…!”
I landed, and my unfortunate observer was gently lifted out. I was awed by that young man. He literally ran himself ragged, in searing heat, trying to save a life. Despite his peak physical fitness, even he was no match for the cruel desert.
Soon we were at it again, and now I was running tight on fuel. Another frustration was headed my way. My own airfield refuellers were very obliging. They would give us a hot refuel, rotors running, anytime we asked for it. They would go out their way to be cooperative, often staying on long after closing time. But the nearest airfield to where we were, was the exact opposite. No force on earth would persuade them to go the extra mile. I headed their way as fast as I could, and called them on the radio.
I explained, carefully, that we had a serious life threatening emergency, with a person lost in the desert. We would greatly appreciate a rotors turning “hot refuel”…
The answer, as per usual, was a curt, flat refusal. The lady on the radio was haughty in her indifference, And I formed the distinct impression that she was playing for the benefit of the gallery. You could just imagine her aside, to the assembled audience:
“Who do they think they are, that Sheriff’s Office lot? We have safety rules here, and if they think we are going to bend them, well, they’ve got another think coming…”
Worse, after we had shut down the rotors, they had to prove their independence, and their contempt for the Sheriff’s Office, by taking their very own sweet time to come out. Minutes passed infuriatingly by, and eventually, easy-ozy, here comes the refueller. At a negative warp speed of minus Mach One. Couldn’t care less… He slowly refueled us, and then smugly told us that we would have to go into the office to pay. I said nothing, kept my temper, hopped back in the seat, and cranked the rotors.
Unbelievable. I wonder how you would feel if it was YOUR son or daughter out in the desert…?
Soon we were streaking back, listening to reports of more items of clothing being found. Sandals, a bra, shorts… Not good.
It was an ATV that found her, in the end. Not the helicopter. She was under a bush, very hard to see,and her naked body was burned by the sun to the same color as the desert…
It was like a gut shot for me. I felt wretched. We had flown and flown over that spot a hundred times, and not seen her. She blended in that well. She was dead, and not long dead. Despite our very best efforts, we had failed utterly. It was one of the worst days for me. An intense feeling of personal failure and inadequacy.
Everybody was upset. There was a lot of sad head shaking.
They went into the desert to do drugs. They had cellphones, and a CB radio. No water. Horrified by her boy friend’s collapse, presumably the panicked girl set off to get help. In her mind altered state, owing to drug use, she failed to use the cell phones, or the CB, or walk West, towards the distant Freeway.
Instead, she headed deeper in to the scorching desert…
Drugs… pure, unadulterated evil.
There was nothing left to do, but re-position, alone, back to base. It was about a thirty minute flight.
Little did I know, what an intense, mind numbing terror still lay quietly in wait ahead for me…
(to be continued) (See Part TWO)
Last edited by Francis Meyrick on July 2, 2016, 11:44 am