May 9, 2009 at 6:56 am #1236207
@ryanLocale: Northern Rockies
As promised, I wanted to take the opportunity to answer recurring questions about Ken's search/rescue incident.
The purpose of this is to relay accurate information to the public.
These questions represent the most common questions asked based on a Backpacking Light reader survey held a few days ago.
Where did Ken go off trail?
Ken kept walking straight (SW) along the Divide at Little Rocky Row, where the AT makes a dogleg to the SE. Leaves on the trail and surrounding area, lack of underbrush, and a relatively broad and nondescript ridgeline contributed to confusion in finding the trail.
How long did it take for Ken to realize he was off-trail?
Just a few minutes. Ken was unable to recover the trail, stopped and waited for 30-60 minutes for a passing hiker to walk by, but heard nothing, even after blowing his emergency whistle. At this time, Ken was out of water, and made the decision to descend to a creek and camp. This was the evening of April 26 (Sunday).
Where was Ken Found?
In the creek drainage flowing SW from near the summit of Little Rocky Row.
What types of actions did Ken take to facilitate rescue?
Upon descending the creek drainage, Ken found a flat spot to make camp, where he stayed the entire time. During that time, Ken made exploratory walks towards the ridge to the NW, and down the creek drainage. Some times, he took only a few essentials. At other times, he packed up his entire camp, and left a note for searchers at his original location. He always returned to the same camp, after running into steep, cliffy terrain.
Ken made use of signal fires, building a number of them over the course of his camp, set a mylar blanket out to attract attention, used a signal mirror to try to signal small planes flying high overhead, and blew his whistle.
How was Ken finally found?
After multiple signaling attempts failed, Ken walked some distance away from his camp and built a signal fire on the afternoon of May 2, noting a drop in barometric pressure on his altimeter watch that he thought might be signaling rain, which he suspected may further delay/hamper search efforts. Using primarily leaves and forest litter, Ken expanded the signal fire so that it was creating thick smoke, allowed it to smolder, and returned to his camp, where he waited.
The local volunteer fire department noted the fire, and responded to the Little Rocky Row trailhead on Highway 130. They hiked up the Little Rocky Row trail, then descended the creek where Ken was camped, and found Ken at his camp. Ken packed up his camp, returned with the firefighters to the trail, and walked out.
Firefighters then created fire boundaries, and allowed the fire to burn to those boundaries, at which time rain and lack of fuel allowed the fire to burn out.
What gear did Ken have with him and which gear was most important?
Ken had overnight backpacking gear, which allowed him to pitch a comfortable camp. This probably contributed to his ability to stay in one spot, unlike lost day hikers, who don't usually carry overnight gear.
Ken's most important gear included firestarting supplies (lighter, matches, Spark-Lite, and Firesteel), a shelter/sleep system, and food.
The most important piece of survival gear, however, was the creek. He was fortunate to find a camp where water was readily available.
How much food was Ken carrying?How much did he eat while lost?
Ken had about 3-4 pounds of food remaining upon his arrival to his camp. He rationed it out and ate about a meal a day. Staying immobile, he wasn't burning many calories. He came out with a little over a pound of food remaining. He lost weight between the time he got lost and the time he was found: about one pant size.
Where and when was Ken last seen by his party?
Punchbowl Mountain, early morning of April 26.
Did anyone else run into a Ken on the trail between Punchbowl Mountain and Little Rocky Row?
We interviewed two day hikers who ran into Ken near Bluff Mountain. Ken also saw "a few" thru-hikers in this stretch of trail, but we never found or heard from them to confirm a new Point Last Seen.
Given the search plan in place at the time, do you have a rough estimate about when Ken might have been found in the absence of a signal fire?
If Ken stayed in the same place, it may have been a few more days. While we had completed hasty searches of the trails and creek bottoms near Punchbowl, we hadn't yet opened up the scope of a hasty search to the entire search area. It is likely that within 1-2 days of starting an exhaustive search of the Punchbowl area, hasty teams would have been allocated to the entire area from Punchbowl south to Highway 130 to sweep all trails and creek drainages first. In that phase of the search, Ken would have been discovered by hasty search teams. If a hasty search had not been done in this creek drainage, and in the absence of further clues, it would have been many days before an exhaustive search went into that area, since it was quite far from Ken's Point Last Seen.
Psychologically, what did Ken go through during the six days that he was missing?
Ken is still processing this. Whether this information will ever become public will be up to Ken. Having been lost before, I can only conjecture that the thoughts that go through your head are pretty dark, and often, negative. Maintaining mental and emotional acuity when you are lost is an important part of survival.
What was the series of events that contributed to Ken becoming separated from his party?
The purpose of this FAQ is not to assess the motivations or judgments of either Ken or his hiking party. The reasons that led to Ken's separation from his party are complex, sensitive, and difficult to process. Please respect this hiking party, give them some space, and some time, and please reserve your judgments before hitting the send button.
Ryan JordanMay 9, 2009 at 5:04 pm #1500263
I have not weighed in on all the discussion, mostly because I did not have enough facts to make any valid points. In the initial stages my thoughts had to do with hope that Ken was OK and that he would be found quickly. After he had been found, I focused more on what happened, how the search evolved and what lessons I, and, indeed, all of us, could take away from this event.
My perceptions were certainly colored by the fact that I had just completed a FUNSAR course the weekend before Ken went missing. Since I am now a qualified SAR searcher, I was very interested in the search process, and found myself thinking about what I would do if I were involved with the actual effort to locate Ken. I was also thinking about what I should do if I were ever in Ken's situation, given what I now know about lost person behavior and the mechanics of locating them.
After reviewing the FAQs, I have reached the following conclusions:
First, it seems to me that Ken did everything he could to make himself "findable." Once he realized he was lost, he kept his head and decided to be a survivor. He took positive steps to ensure his safety, comfort and visibility (finding water, making an established camp, making visible signs, leaving notes, etc.) He kept his Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) throughout the entire ordeal. I find his visual impairment to be largely irrelevant. Any one of us could easily be put into Ken's situation during one of our walks in the wilds. The key here is that he took control of the situation, and was an integral component of his ultimate rescue.
Second, it sounds like the search itself was very well organized and well managed. I was impressed during the early stages when one of the search team members used the BPL forums to ask about Ken's shoe characteristics. Posting Ken's photo, showing his probable attire and pack, was also a smart move. It helps tremendously to know what clues to look for in a search, and to use any and all resources available. Again, very clever to use the Internet as another tool in the overall search effort.
My final take is that the combination of Ken being an astute search subject along with a well-organized search effort paid off. Even though the firefighters were (presumably?) not a part of the official search effort, they were made aware enough that when they responded to his signal fire, they knew to be on the lookout for Ken, and that anything out of the ordinary could be a clue to his whereabouts.
My hat is off to Ken for his actions and for actively "participating" in the efforts to locate him. Likewise, I doff my hat to the SAR teams because I now have at least some glimmer of an idea of what they do, and did, to find Ken and bring him to safety. Good job to all!May 10, 2009 at 7:48 am #1500352
Thank you, Ryan. I appreciate your work in this effort, and I imagine the BPL community (and others) do too.
-MMay 12, 2009 at 10:06 am #1500792
Thank you for compiling this information and sharing with the community. Just so you and other concerned members are aware, I have a assigned a review panel to conduct interviews and analyze our actions in the search for Ken.
This is a common critique method to islotate the facts of the case, and bring forth the lessons learned in the format of what went well, and what could be improved.
Ryan, you will probably recieve a phone call from the panel, and I'm sure they would like to interview Ken as well, if he's willing.
Thanks again for all of your help.
VA. State SAR Coordinator
VA. Emergency Operations Center
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