Missing Hiker on the AT

3:54 p.m. on May 2, 2009 (EDT)
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Ken Knight, a visually impaired hiker from Michigan has gone missing in the VA section of the AT. A search is being conducted by the VA SAR and Ryan Jordan from BPL, which Ken contributes to, is organizing volunteers as well.

Here is a link to the BPL forum thread.

[url=http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/...thread_id=20748]http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/...thread_id=20748

If anyone has seen Ken or wants to help, I suggest you contact Ryan through his website.

9:32 p.m. on May 2, 2009 (EDT)
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Man, I sure do hate to hear that. I have been aware of Ken for some time, I don't know him but I have great respect for him and others that get out there despite personal challenges.

9:42 p.m. on May 2, 2009 (EDT)
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He's been found, unhurt, last I read he was being checked out at a hospital but he walked out on his own steam accompanied by firefighters.

http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2009/05/searchers_find_missing_appalac.html

3:07 a.m. on May 3, 2009 (EDT)
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There's more on BPL, but nothing much new as far as facts go. Ken was rescued because he started a fire that was spotted and fire crews responded.

While I am sure we all are glad he's okay, fires are not always the best way to get attention when lost. Here in SoCal, in 2003, a lost hunter set off a flare to get spotted. The fire he started burned almost 300,000 acres, over 2300 homes, hundreds of other buildings and killed 15 people. It cost millions to fight.

2:05 p.m. on May 3, 2009 (EDT)
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Tom, that's what I've been thinking, but I was afraid to say anything since everyone else was focusing on how great it was that he was found.

3:22 p.m. on May 3, 2009 (EDT)
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I had the same thoughts before posting, but I think the possible consequences should not be overlooked. The damage done by the Cedar fire, as it is known, was enormous. More than two thousand families lost almost everything they owned because of one person's negligence. Fifteen people were killed either fighting the fire or were overrun by it. Hard to justify that cost in my mind.

7:10 p.m. on May 3, 2009 (EDT)
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I know what you mean, but then again I was a FF before med school, so maybe my opinion is skewed.

10:53 p.m. on May 3, 2009 (EDT)
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The problem with bringing up issues like this is that the friends of the victim, or in this case, the lucky survivor, jump on anyone who dares criticize the person who was the subject of the search.

Granted, much of the commentary, especially on news websites that carry these stories, is insensitive and often just hateful as in "he (or she) got what he deserved, why should we pay for his foolishness" kind of stuff, but even constructive criticism gets attacked as uncaring, etc.

On BPL, where Ken is an editor, you can imagine how well any negative comments are taken. Although I did read that he will be getting a SPOT. Given his disability, I think that is prudent.

Another point-it sounds like, although it isn't completely clear to me, that he was with a group and they left him behind. If that is true, then blame squarely belongs to them. I've read other stories about hikers being abandoned by their group because they were too slow or got hurt.

This happened in NZ a few years ago. A young woman was rescued in Arthur's Pass by SAR, after being abandoned by her friends who had also helpfully told her not to drink the water (totally bogus advice for down there which I know firsthand-once you are above the sheep farms, you can pretty much drink anything that looks like water).

SAR put it this way on their report "Our advice to her was to get some new friends!"

6:28 a.m. on May 4, 2009 (EDT)
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Our rule is that a GOOD group never travels faster than it's slowest member.

As far as the fire goes... I am trained as a firefighter too, and an LNT advocate, and a SAR Tech. As a survival instructor, I teach that when it comes to survival, "You do whatever you can to get rescued." (Fires are one thing though, firing a flare into the air in dry forest is quite another.)

I'm glad officials found the person. I think he too, needs new friends.

7:31 a.m. on May 4, 2009 (EDT)
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Tom,

The problem, IMO, of criticizing someone who uses fire to summon rescue is akin to saying we should not drive cars because of accidents, etc.. Fire is useful for many purposes if used properly, 99% of the tangible objects surrounding you right now were probably produced, in some way, through the use of fire (most of our electricity is thermal-generated).

 

OTOH, the idjit who set off the flare in dry woods should be prosecuted for manslaughter, minimum. However, someone who is lost certainly should be able to exercise the option to create a manageable signal fire in a safe area; that does no harm and is good policy, IMO.

 

Apparently, Ken did not start a signal fire, but a "brush-fire" that required the fire department to extinguish; not only that, according to reports he walked away from the live fire when it got out of control.

"Ken Knight, 41, was found at the base of Little Rocky Row after a small signal fire he lit got out of control, turning into a 2-acre brush fire on the ridge that got everyone’s attention, said Lt. Brandon Cocke of the Big Island Volunteer Fire Department." http://www.newsadvance.com/lna/news/local/article/missing_at_hiker_found/15648/P10/

IMO, Ken should be charged the full cost (and only cost) for the rescue he summoned; as an experienced hiker, Ken obviously was negligent in order to be lost, stay lost, and require rescue. He told his friends that he was going off-trail solo, though he is legally blind and would have difficulty identifying landmarks - that sounds negligent. Arson charges might also be examined.

7:59 p.m. on May 4, 2009 (EDT)
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I agree with what has been said so far, I would add that a strong strobe light (hauled up a tree) could be very useful at night for helping others to find you. Especially if you have left behind an itinerary and stop once you realize you are lost. It seems as these have gone by the wayside recently (strobes), at least with the people I have contact with.

Cell phone coverage on the AT is not reliable in my experience, and IF his "group" left him behind shame on them. Even my dog stays with me and he can move twice as fast as me.

One last thing, I don't know how tired or disoriented he was, but our judgement is affected when one is lost and exhausted, but still...

8:28 p.m. on May 4, 2009 (EDT)
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A question on signalling for help - Having devices like SPOT, ACR, satphones, and in areas where you get coverage, cell phones, ham radios, FRS/GMRS radios, and radios capable of linking to the USFS and NPS repeaters is all well and good (and desirable as a backup - on Denali, CB radios are used for the nightly weather report and talking to the rangers). But how do you signal in such a way as to attract attention if, for some reason (like these widgets cost money and some require subscriptions to some service at sometimes high monetary cost), you do not have a widget.

Ok, I have my own answer, based on a few decades of experience (never lost, but I did SAR for a while). But I will play a bit of devil's advocate here.

There are publications that give various signalling methods - smoke signals, fires, laying out strips of cloth or stomping signs in the snow using certain internationally recognized signals, flashing a mirror at a passing aircraft, flares (flying in the "sparsely settled territories" of Canada, we were required to carry flares among other things), really bright strobes, etc etc. But fires can get out of control (very easily here in California, every summer and fall). How do you know that the strobe or flash of light from the ground is an emergency signal (maybe it is some idiot using a laser to flash at pilots just for fun - that has happened)? In trying to signal an aircraft, what if no plane flies over (maybe because you are far from where they thought you were - remember "Castaway"?). How visible are those strips of cloth you laid out on the ground, assuming you laid them out in the correct "help me" pattern? When my friend Warren was trapped under a rock, even though his companion managed to get out and notify authorities, it was difficult for the helicopter S&R crew to see him under the trees (successful rescue, though). Tell me, trout, how are you going to get that strobe in the tree (do you have a long enough cord when you are lost in the redwoods?)?

Note that I am not saying "too bad, sucker, you've bought it. They are never going to find you." Number One is prevention - know where you are going, learn good navigational skills and stay within your capabilities, notify others, maybe use a SPOT or ACR (but remember batteries die), ... oh, and yes, get trustworthy friends and stay on good relations with your family, so your also highly skilled spouse really does want to find you.

(curmudgeon mode off)

9:28 p.m. on May 4, 2009 (EDT)
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HaHa, Yes, All true Bill!

Prevention is the best approach of course.

I think my mention of a strobe was within the context of traveling in areas like the AT although I did not make that clear in my post did I. I realize spotting a strobe (or other signs) by air in a remote area is long odds. I was thinking of a crew searching the ground which should be doable in areas with main trails like the AT and it's spur trails. Although terrain will impact how effective any light is for signaling. I was thinking that a strobe is an alternative to a signal fire, and would get more attention than a fire if I was searching the woods for someone. Well, okay maybe not a brush fire.

If a person was seen at say, mile 167, of the AT and did not make it to the shelter at mile 175, they should not be too hard to find IF they stayed put upon becoming lost. I don't know what happened in Mr. Knights case.

I usually carry 50' of cord, plus a bit of smaller twine, enough to get a strobe high enough to be visible to searchers in the vicinity depending on terrain. With my luck they might think I'm just partying.

Of course this is only one tool that is available, and not at all foolproof. I think a lot of the advise given about signaling with mirrors, and making signs and so forth sounds great, may have marginal results, but works good if it is noticed. The strobe is no exception in very remote areas, but I would not consider the AT, Foothills, Palmetto, or other areas like it to be remote, or hard to search, not that I don't understand SAR takes a special skill set.

BTW, I think yelling is way under rated too!

10:48 p.m. on May 4, 2009 (EDT)
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Whistles carry farther with less physical effort than yelling. In orienteering meets, we require everyone to carry a whistle (and instruct thkids very firmly NOT to play with the whistle, but do blow with the US "help" signal of 3 blasts, wait a minute, 3 blasts (most of the world uses sets of 6 blasts). I carry one of the Fox 40s on trail and off. I used to carry another larger whistle with a pea until I learned that the pea can freeze up in cold weather, in which case the whistle is much less loud - the Fox 40 is literally ear-splitting in all sorts of weather with little effort. There are others that also get over 120-140dB.

Mirrors do work with aircraft, if you know how to use them. Turns out a CD works very well as an emergency mirror, and you can use the bireflector method with them as well, which helps the aiming. Having done a few practice searches where we had to spot the victim who was signalling with a mirror, I can attest that it does work. Of course, all our "victims" were trained in proper use of the mirror, which many backpackers aren't.

11:14 p.m. on May 4, 2009 (EDT)
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Yes, I do carry a whistle, but not the type you mentioned Bill.

I will do a search on the Fox 40, thanks for the mention.

One of the reasons I bought a sighting compass many years ago was because several articles I read touted the mirror as also being useful for signaling. Please describe the bireflector method.

Thanks.

11:54 a.m. on May 5, 2009 (EDT)
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Some rescue mirrors (and CDs) have a transparent section in the middle and a mirror or reflective section on the back. One of my rescue mirrors I got when in grade school (made of glass!?!?) has the clear section cross-shaped. When holding the mirror to reflect the sun, you view your (or your hand's) reflection in the backside reflective section. By aligning reflection of the bright cross (or circle if it is a CD) on your hand, your sightline through the transparent cross or hole is looking directly along the beam reflected from the front. So if you are viewing the search plane and reflected cross/circle, the reflected sunlight is directed to the searcher very accurately.

If you just have a mirror, you have to remember that "angle of incidence = angle of reflection" and wiggle the mirror around in hopes of occasionally getting the single reflected beam pointed the right direction. By using the 2 ("bi") reflections (off the front and the reflected image on the back), you improve your accuracy by orders of magnitude.

1:51 p.m. on May 5, 2009 (EDT)
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Yes, I do carry a whistle, but not the type you mentioned Bill.

I will do a search on the Fox 40, thanks for the mention.

Fox 40s can be found at any sporting goods store or outfitter. They are the same whistle used by HS, College, and NFL refs. Great whistles.

7:21 p.m. on May 5, 2009 (EDT)
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Bill, thanks for the explanation.

f-klock, Well, I guess I've seen those whistles before, but I don't have one. Thanks for the heads up.

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