I looked across the room at Cindy, our K9 handler, with the "ya wanna?" question on my face. We'd talked about this search a few days earlier, when she'd gotten a call about it -- a little advance notice that Apache County would probably be asking for her to bring her dogs, all four of which are NASAR-certified and cross-trained in area search (for live subjects) and human remains detection.
I needed to make sure I had someone to watch my own (non-SAR) dog, and I'd had other things I was planning to do in the next couple of days, but I was willing to go if she was. I'd go along as Cindy's backer.
So, we decided to do it. The two of us, four rather large dogs (at least, they seem large when they're all in the same vehicle), and a bunch of gear piled into Cindy's SUV the next morning and headed southeast. This was an area Cindy knew well from her childhood, but I'd only passed through a couple of times.
Helping with a SAR mission in a different county is an interesting experience. It's difficult, if not altogether impossible, to leave behind the expectations of how a search will be carried out based on your experience with your own team and the norms you're used to. (Coconino County is fortunate, by the way, to have a full-time Search and Rescue Coordinator. Most counties do not.) As a searcher, though, you report to whoever is in charge, you give your two cents -- your ideas and suggestions -- if asked for, you get your assignment, and you carry out that assignment to the best of your ability. And that's what Cindy and I and four hard-working Golden Retrievers did.
It was a stormy day, and our assignment took us up to 11,400 feet on the open summit of Mt. Baldy, Arizona's second highest peak, and into the thick trees on the extremely steep slopes surrounding the ridge. I felt the adrenaline rush through my veins each time the thunder seemed to be coming back our way. The rain fell steadily, and we and the dogs were soon soaked and stayed that way for the duration. It was cold up there.
|Cindy and her four search dogs near the summit of Mt. Baldy|
|Searching for scent along the treeline on the Mt. Baldy ridge|
|Searching the ridge after the thunderstorm moved off|
We were searching for Frank Carl Patane, 60, from Tucson. Mr. Patane had disappeared on August 11th, after signing the Mt. Baldy trailhead register at 7:30 that morning. His vehicle was found at the trailhead a couple of days later by a deputy, when the hotel staff where Mr. Patane had been staying reported that he hadn't returned after saying he was going to hike that mountain.
Family members described Frank Patane as an avid day hiker who was inexperienced as a camper. He'd had surgery for a detached left retina a month before this solo hike. They were concerned that his eyesight may have become an issue.
On the day Mr. Patane signed the register, a severe storm hit the area at roughly 11:30am, an hour after another party signed that same trail register. They'd turned back due to the weather, having seen no sign of the man we were searching for. The search continued intensely for 17 days, with multiple counties responding -- ground-pounders, K9 teams, ATV teams, and mounted units. No clues were found.
|The "chow truck," feeding volunteers from many counties during the search|
|Basic information on the missing person on the side of the Command Trailer|
|Incident Command / Base Camp|
On our second day assisting with the search, Cindy and I were joined by another teammate from Coconino County. We grid-searched a large meadow with a narrow, muddy creek running through it, as well as a wooded area and some unoccupied buildings (one of which was heavily guarded by wasps) as thunder continued to rumble.
|We search again the next day|
Cindy and the dogs and another backer (I couldn't go) returned to Apache County a second time the following weekend. They searched for two days during the final "big push" to locate Mr. Patane. Last I heard -- and I've found nothing online to indicate otherwise -- no clues have yet to be found.
Here's another news article about the search, with a photos of Frank Carl Patane: Authorities Continue Search for Missing Hiker; More K9 Search Teams Join the Effort