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Backpacker Magazine – October 2006

Missing in Action: How a Backcountry Ranger With 28 Years Experience Disappeared

Did High Sierra ranger Randy Morgenson succumb to depression or disaster?

by: Eric Blehm


In 1976, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force named Robert Mattson came up with a method for prioritizing ground-search areas. His then-innovative strategy, first published in the Spring 1976 issue of Search and Rescue Magazine, came to be known as the Mattson Consensus. It was inspired by the pioneering work of B.O. Koopman, a member of the U.S. Navy's Operations Evaluation Group, who created a mathematical approach to locating enemy submarines in the vast oceans during World War II. The strategy was so effective that Koopman and his group were credited with helping win the battle against German U-boats in the Atlantic.

The Mattson Consensus has remained a favorite technique of SAR professionals like Coffman, who implemented its classic approach as leader of the search effort at Bench Lake. According to Mattson, a successful search required the presence of experts who knew something about either the missing person or the terrain.

In this case, Coffman had assembled both. After collecting as much information as possible about the victim and the territory and dividing the overall search area into smaller segments, Coffman conducted a secret ballot. Each ranger was asked to assign each segment a number value–high for areas where Randy most probably was, low for least-probable locales. According to Mattson, it was "best to do this privately because it will insure that even the meeker individuals will be able to express their opinion without being intimidated by the more vocal members of the group."

Though Coffman ran the show and knew the history behind the theory, the rangers knew the drill and spoke the same acronym-heavy language. POA, for example, was code for probability of area, the odds that Randy was in a certain sector. ROW was the rest of the world and represented the possibility that Randy was somewhere outside the designated search area.

The percentage points assigned by each ranger for 16 segments plus the ROW segment had to add up to 100 points. Nobody could assign a zero for any area. That would mean he or she knew with certainty that Randy was not in that particular zone, which was impossible. In his 1976 article, Mattson had taunted readers for such false confidence in the face of unknowns: "If you KNOW where the survivors are, why are you searching!"



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Pissed
Apr 01, 2012

This piece masquerades as a full story when in reality it is just a teaser.

FUCK YOU, Backpacker. I will never buy another issue.

Don
Jan 11, 2011

Just finished the book, "The Last Season," and pretty much recommend it to anyone who is attracted to hiking / backpacking and the risks involved.

The subject of the story, Randy Morgensen, was a literal expert at outdoor living and surviving. He was beyond, in experience, what 98% of American outdoor people think they are. But, then, he was lucky enough to grow up in Yosemite with a father who bred him for the outdoors and then he just extended that training on his own starting with mountaineering training in India.

There is a location in the book of where a search dog went through the ice and had to be med-i-vaced out due to a paw injury. It had just alerted to something. The GPS location in the book doesn't make sense. Anyone understand that location ? It was easier for me to simply google "Window Peak, CA" and observe the terrain of Window Peak Lake which put me about 1/4 mile away from the spot referenced.

Em
Nov 01, 2010

What I hate is that they don't tell us how Judi felt or did after she found out

Emily
Nov 01, 2010

I have read the book The Last Season, all about his life and disappearance. I think he left the park, sent the divorce paper thing, and than came back and commited sucide.

LION 01
May 21, 2010

I ATE HIM YUM YUM

Anonymous
May 21, 2010

NOBODY IS AN EXPERT IN A WILD HARSH ENVIORNMENT
LEAVE IT TO THE MOUNTAIN LIONS

Anonymous
May 21, 2010

NOBODY IS AN EXPERT IN A WILD HARSH ENVIORNMENT
LEAVE IT TO THE MOUNTAIN LIONS

Scott
May 07, 2010

I knew Randy well during my six years as back country ranger. I can see both scenarios. If he left the back country I don't he could have stayed gone. He loved it to much. It was his home and rangering was the only way of life he knew.

Mario
Oct 18, 2009

It's all America's fault! Happy eco freaks?

DArmenta
Oct 14, 2009

Q. Did High Sierra ranger, Randy Morgenson, succumb to depression or disaster?

A. Both. One led to the other. End of story.

Aj
Jan 23, 2009

Great Book. Buy it. (please)

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