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Published: Thursday, July 21, 2011, 12:01 a.m.

Search-and-rescue missions cost time and money

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 doesn'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 cities. 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 category20062007200820092010TotalPercentage of missions
Missing adults and children71417126569%
Climbers, skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, avalanche victims1191378487%
Hikers, campers, hunters, anglers, spelunkers, prospectors313134483618028%
Alzheimers, disabled, emotionally disturbed, suicidal332823222212820%
Parachutists, BASE jumpers, hang gliders0101241%
Power boaters, rafters, kayakers, canoeists, swimmers81313715569%
Equestrians, bicyclists, cyclists, ATVers51450152%
Criminal activity3261810396%
Body search/recovery, drownings15111110176410%
Downed aircraft2023291%
FEMA assist0000000%
Floods, flood victims1211161%
All other0223291%

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

DateIncidentSheriff's Office hours workedVolunteer hours workedTotal hours worked
5/8/2005Lost hikers on Mt. Pilchuck.6718651932
6/22/2005Find overdue climbers on Vesper Peak.94.51459.51554
8/8/2009Find lost angler on North Fork Sauk River.47898.25945.25
5/28/2006Search for lost hikers near Blanca Lake.44853897
1/7/2009Multiple rescues during major flooding.209674.5883.5
12/5/2010Fatal climbing accident on Morning Star Peak.65816.5881.5
11/3/2009Search for suicidal man on Boulder River trail.59.5774.5834
8/2/2010Rescue BASE jumper from north face of Baring Mountain.48.5747795.5
12/12/2010Multiple rescues during major flooding.101.25648.75750
8/1/2009Find lost hiker on Mt. Pilchuck.39684723
12/29/2003Find, recover body of patient with Alzheimers.57.5659716.5
7/6/2004Recover body of missing man near Granite Falls.61601.5662.5
8/28/2004Assist detectives search for evidence at homicide scene.44.5603647.5
7/27/2007Search for missing hiker on Mt. Pilchuck.29590619
6/17/2003Search for missing prospector near Lake Cavanaugh.45569.5614.5
1/19/2003Rescue at Big Four Ice Caves.30584614
11/6/2006Multiple rescues during major flooding.0571.5571.5
9/14/2003Rescue injured climber from Wilmans Spire.40531571
3/27/2004Search for overdue hikers on Three Fingers Mountain.37520557
2/26/2003Search for overdue hikers at Big Four Mountian.70.5482.5553
5/12/2003Search for possible suicide on Mt. Pilchuck.63468531
12/3/2010Locate elderly man who died while fishing along Pilchuck Creek.25457482
6/28/2003Find hikers missing near Sloan Creek.62418480
6/5/2009Rescue injured hiker near Barclay Lake.30.5443473.5
7/27/2010Find missing hiker on Mt. Pilchuck.30.5408438.5

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

Helicopter missions

Snohomish County Sheriff's Office numbers for 2010:

Mission typeCountFlight hoursTotal sortiesHours worked
Searches and rescues3654.7209490.5
Body recovery817.349.7194

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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