Search and rescue’s cost

  • Reported by Gale Fiege
  • Thursday, July 21, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

By this time each year, some snow has melted in the Cascade Range, hikers are out on the trails and people talk again about how much it costs to rescue those who get lost or injured. Snohomish County budgets about $470,000 a year for search-and-rescue operations run by the sheriff’s office. That doe

sn’t include the nearly 7,000 hours contributed each year by the county’s 350 search-and-rescue volunteers.

Who gets rescued?

About 50 percent of rescue missions involve people enjoying the outdoors: hikers, campers, hunters, climbers, skiers, river rafters. Searches also happen in c

ities. Missing children, Alzheimer’s patients and people with disabilities or emotional problems make up about 30 percent of those rescued.

Search-and-rescue missions by category

Mission category 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 Total Percentage of missions
Missing adults and children 7 14 17 12 6 56 9%
Climbers, skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, avalanche victims 11 9 13 7 8 48 7%
Hikers, campers, hunters, anglers, spelunkers, prospectors 31 31 34 48 36 180 28%
Alzheimers, disabled, emotionally disturbed, suicidal 33 28 23 22 22 128 20%
Parachutists, BASE jumpers, hang gliders 0 1 0 1 2 4 1%
Motorists 11 3 7 7 5 33 5%
Power boaters, rafters, kayakers, canoeists, swimmers 8 13 13 7 15 56 9%
Equestrians, bicyclists, cyclists, ATVers 5 1 4 5 0 15 2%
Criminal activity 3 2 6 18 10 39 6%
Body search/recovery, drownings 15 11 11 10 17 64 10%
Downed aircraft 2 0 2 3 2 9 1%
FEMA assist 0 0 0 0 0 0 0%
Floods, flood victims 1 2 1 1 1 6 1%
Fires 1 0 0 0 0 1 0%
All other 0 2 2 3 2 9 1%
Total 128 117 133 144 126 648 100%

Click on the graphic below for a visualization of the data above.

One of the county’s most jaw-dropping rescues came in August 2010 when a BASE jumper got snagged on the north face of Mount Baring. It took the use of a helicopter and ground crews to hoist the man to safety. Turns out he was wanted on a warrant for an equally dangerous stunt in Skagit County.

Volunteers are key to rescues. In recent years, they’ve accounted for 93 percent of the time spent on the county’s top 25 missions.

Top 25 search-and-rescue missions, 2003-10

Date Incident Sheriff’s Office hours worked Volunteer hours worked Total hours worked
5/8/2005 Lost hikers on Mt. Pilchuck. 67 1865 1932
6/22/2005 Find overdue climbers on Vesper Peak. 94.5 1459.5 1554
8/8/2009 Find lost angler on North Fork Sauk River. 47 898.25 945.25
5/28/2006 Search for lost hikers near Blanca Lake. 44 853 897
1/7/2009 Multiple rescues during major flooding. 209 674.5 883.5
12/5/2010 Fatal climbing accident on Morning Star Peak. 65 816.5 881.5
11/3/2009 Search for suicidal man on Boulder River trail. 59.5 774.5 834
8/2/2010 Rescue BASE jumper from north face of Baring Mountain. 48.5 747 795.5
12/12/2010 Multiple rescues during major flooding. 101.25 648.75 750
8/1/2009 Find lost hiker on Mt. Pilchuck. 39 684 723
12/29/2003 Find, recover body of patient with Alzheimers. 57.5 659 716.5
7/6/2004 Recover body of missing man near Granite Falls. 61 601.5 662.5
8/28/2004 Assist detectives search for evidence at homicide scene. 44.5 603 647.5
7/27/2007 Search for missing hiker on Mt. Pilchuck. 29 590 619
6/17/2003 Search for missing prospector near Lake Cavanaugh. 45 569.5 614.5
1/19/2003 Rescue at Big Four Ice Caves. 30 584 614
11/6/2006 Multiple rescues during major flooding. 0 571.5 571.5
9/14/2003 Rescue injured climber from Wilmans Spire. 40 531 571
3/27/2004 Search for overdue hikers on Three Fingers Mountain. 37 520 557
2/26/2003 Search for overdue hikers at Big Four Mountian. 70.5 482.5 553
5/12/2003 Search for possible suicide on Mt. Pilchuck. 63 468 531
12/3/2010 Locate elderly man who died while fishing along Pilchuck Creek. 25 457 482
6/28/2003 Find hikers missing near Sloan Creek. 62 418 480
6/5/2009 Rescue injured hiker near Barclay Lake. 30.5 443 473.5
7/27/2010 Find missing hiker on Mt. Pilchuck. 30.5 408 438.5

Click on the graphic below for a visualization of the data above.

Helicopter missions

Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office numbers for 2010:

Mission type Count Flight hours Total sorties Hours worked
Searches and rescues 36 54.7 209 490.5
Body recovery 8 17.3 49.7 194
Other 10 17.4 65 392
Reconnaissance 7 13.7 25 49
Training 61 99.7 460 1458
Maintenance 32 34.1 88 184

Should those who get in trouble pay? Search and rescue volunteers are opposed to the idea. They worry that charging for rescues could deter people from seeking help immediately. The sheriff’s office earlier favored legislation that would have increased outdoor permit fees and allowed for a $500 fine for reckless behavior leading to a rescue. The proposal died for lack of support.

Before you go
Sheriff’s Sgt. Danny Wikstrom, offers these tips:
• Take survival essentials in your backpack, including a cell phone.
• Don’t wear cotton clothes or sandals.
• Leave written information with a reliable person regarding your route, your trailhead, your vehicle, your equipment and what to do if you do not return on schedule.
• Know where you are going.
• If you get lost or hurt: Stop, Think, Observe, Plan.

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