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The Manual: Finding Lost Hikers

Turned around in the backcountry? Here are 33 essential tips to remember if you or your partner goes missing.
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Find a Lost Person
You may not be the one missing; it may be another member of your party who goes out fishing and fails to return. But before you call the search-and-rescue squad, it’s worth conducting your own search. The key is to be systematic in your efforts:
1. Gather information and make a plan.
>> Identify when the person went missing and his last known location.
>> Discuss his or her personality traits. Is the person likely to panic and move, or stay put? Is he or she reliable?
>> Brainstorm what survival gear the missing person may be carrying.
2. Organize search teams.
>> Make sure no one is looking alone.
>> Each team should have marked maps and a clear sense of their location and the area they should explore.
>> Set return times.
3. Do an initial “hasty” search.
>> Send searchers to obvious places: water, trails, and so forth.
>> Lost people tend to follow linear features like streams and trails, so focus initial searches accordingly.
>> Leave notes in obvious places instructing the lost person to sit tight. Recheck these spots regularly.
4. Do a fine search.
If it becomes clear that you’re not going to find the missing person easily, shift efforts into a detailed “fine” search. At this point, you’ll probably need to bring in outside help, as fine searches require lots of people power. Call 911 or send runners to the trailhead to seek assistance. While you wait, you can continue searching:

>> Organize your group into parties of three or more with a designated leader. Give each team a specific area to examine, and designate a length of time to search. The timeframe will be determined by terrain, number of searchers, resources, and distances, so it may vary anywhere from two hours to six or eight.

>> Each search team should spread out in a line, close enough so they can see and hear each other. Call the missing person’s name, and listen for responses. Mark the edges of searched places. Flag clues you find, but leave them in place. Repeat this until you can clear the search area (meaning no sign of the person has been detected).

>> Keep one incident commander in camp to track teams, determine search areas, and make sure everyone’s rested.

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