Elkland Search and Rescue was alerted at 8:12pm Saturday evening for a missing hunter in the village of Grant in Elk County by the Pa State Police, Ridgway Barracks. The hunter was an 88 year old, who was dropped off around 10 am Saturday morning to turkey hunt their way back to camp. Pa State Police were notified by the hunting companions of an overdue hunter and an investigation was begun. While Elkland Sar was in route, Elk Co. 5 Jay Township F.D. was requested for assistance. A command post was set up in the Village of Grant and a unified command was established between PSP, Elk Co. 5 and Elkland SAR, around 9:15pm. PSP Ridgway also requested Pine Creek K9 Team out of Brookville, Pa.
After a brief interview with the hunting party, a plan was initiated to get teams of searchers to the point last seen (LKP). This is where the topography of this situation gets interesting! By the way “the crow flies”, the individual was dropped off about 1.8 miles from his camp. To drive to that location, it was an 18 mile one way trip via vehicle or UTV. Natural barriers included a river, and 1000 feet of elevation change in the area. The area was logged within the last few years and a recent blowdown hit the area.
Search teams were taken to the LKP, by the hunting party and the search began around 10:15pm. Once search teams arrived on scene of the LKP, teams branched out beginning their assignments to locate the missing hunter. ATV and UTV teams branched out to search and map the trails and check track traps in the area. Mantrackers worked to locate his tracks from the area where he was dropped off and hasty teams were assigned to most probable routes the individual may have taken to get out of the area. K9 teams were also sent to try to locate a scent trail from the LKP and others were sent to search areas of interest.
By 1am, searchers were reporting hazardous conditions almost everywhere they went. Hasty teams were reporting that due to steep conditions with fresh leaf drops, downed trees and loose rocky conditions the side hills were too dangerous to transverse without daylight. A K9 team was reporting a run in with a rattlesnake (not bitten) and a porcupine was located by another K9 team. (Yes, on warm days and nights, even in November, you need to be cautious of your surroundings. )ATV and UTV teams were reporting trails blocked from the blowdown and too dangerous to open up at night. The PSP helicopter also had to return due to windy conditions. With the fresh information of the dangerous conditions, all teams were recalled and requested to be at the Command Post by 3am for refreshments, snacks and to rest until daylight. The K9 team that had the porcupine encounter was also attended to by the handler and teammates. During the debriefing of teams from the field, the decision was made to relocate the Command Post to an area on top of the Quehanna Mountain off of the Quehanna Highway in the morning.
By 6am, the Command Post was buzzing with activity. The microwave was cooking breakfast, the radios were chattering with dispatchers, equipment was being refueled while other equipment was being stored away to be transported to the new Command Post. The communication that is going on behind the scenes during a situation that was growing of this size is unbelievable. Dispatchers from both Elk County Control and the Pa State Police Communication Officers are constantly on the phone and radio ordering additional resources and checking on the availability of resources if needed. Requests were sent out to have the Pa Game Commission and Pa DCNR to meet at the new Command Post by 8am.
By 8am, searchers were back in the field searching for the hunter. Additional helicopter support was requested to assist with the search. Med Stat assisted with flyover and visual support from the air and the Pa State Police were working to get back into the air for support. At that time, drone teams with Flir were requested to the scene to assist with the search. AerialJimPA of Indiana PA responded and also with the help of Fox Township F.D. Chief 3 , Scott Surra, Allegheny Technical Rescue Team responded out of New York State with their Drone Team and Command Trailer. Elk County Emergency Management Director, Mike McAllister has now arrived on scene and is offering and assisting with resources to assist with the search. During this time, Elk Co. 5 is handling transportation arrangements, as teams are starting to clear their areas and need transported back to the Command Post. Interestingly enough, this is about a 13 mile drive for the transport vehicle to the pickup location, again one way.
The time is now around 11am, and everyone is busy doing his or her job to locate the hunter. The Command Post radios are constantly talking; additional staff from the Pa Game Commission and Pa DCNR are coming in and being briefed with search tasks. Field teams are working at their tasks searching for the hunter. The Command Staff is working to transition to a new staff of Pa Game Commission Officers, Pa DCNR Officers and Pa State Police, as the current staff is preparing to step back. A clue comes in and confirmation is made the correct area is being searched for the missing hunter. Mantrackers from Elkland SAR are working that scene with additional Game Commission Trackers and their K9 team in route to assist at that clue location. Once together, the trackers are working a track in an eastern direction. The K9 team who was working the area east of the clue location were clearing the draining stream down to the river. With the fresh clue, trackers working on track moving east, air support overhead, a K9 team east of the trackers, the situation seemed to receive a breath of fresh air at the Command Post. The Salvation Army has now arrived on scene and accessing what they can do to support the search situation.
Then it happened, the crackle came over the radio, someone seeming miles away, (they were 6 miles away, deep in a drainage)saying this is K9 team 2, “Missing Hiker has been found and is OK.” To say there was a relief at the Command Post is an understatement. The individual is then evaluated by searchers and it was determined they were able to walk out on their own, to be evaluated by a waiting paramedic from the Command Post and Bennett’s Valley Ambulance personnel, once access to the individual can be made. The individual was released to his hunting companions without needing transported to the hospital.
How many agencies were involved with a situation like this, you might be asking? Well here is a list composed by Chief 5, Brandon Kowalski, of the agencies: Pa State Police Ridgway, Pa State Police Punxsutawney, Pa PSP Air Support, Elk County Emergency Services, Elk Co. 5 Jay Township F.D., Pa Game Commission, Pa DCNR, Saint Marys P.D. K9 Unit, Pine Creek K9 Search Unit, Med Stat Air Medical Helicopter Service, Allegheny Technical Rescue Team (Drone from NY State), AerialJimPA(Drone from Indiana Pa), Salvation Army, Bennett’s Valley Ambulance Service and Elkland Search and Rescue. If I forgot to list an organization or person, I apologize! Elkland responded with 16 members and all equipment.
The pictures are from the search. I think these pictures reveal some of the beautiful country searchers can experience on a search call. You can also see what the searchers had to deal with to overcome the situation. Special shout out to Tam from Pine Creek K9 for permission to use her pictures!
We need to also recognize the individuals of Elk County that support Elkland Search and Rescue! Without the continued financial support from Our Community, there is No Way we could to able to provide the service we do! To that, We Humbly say THANK YOU!
Respectfully Submitted by:
Chief of Elkland Search and Rescue