Search and Rescue in Sisters Country


Last updated 10/4/2022 at Noon

Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Search & Rescue had a busy summer in Sisters Country. PHOTO PROVIDED

The last week of summer ended with a string of calls to Search and Rescue (SAR). Most calls and the resulting rescues could have been avoided with a little forethought and always taking the 10 essentials.

In the past three years, Deschutes County Search and Rescue has averaged 118 missions per year. (See related story.)

Many of the calls that come in to Deschutes County Search and Rescue are not from those needing to be rescued, but from concerned friends or family members who were expecting the return of a loved one from a hike. Other calls come in from hikers who have gotten separated or were supposed to rendezvous at a specific spot and their companions never showed up.

Deputy Donny Patterson, assistant SAR coordinator, says, “More recently people are going out in the woods by themselves without a way to get a hold of us (SAR) or family. We try to encourage people to go in groups and stay with the group and to have a fully charged cell phone or locator beacon.”

Some calls into SAR come from hikers that are fortunate enough to get a cellular reception but are totally disoriented — lost. If the connection is good, the hiker can be located by their cell phone’s GPS signal and often verbally guided out to a trail by SAR.

Although a cell phone may be helpful, it should never, ever, be depended upon as your safety blanket. Many areas in our vast forests do not have cell service.

When someone calls SAR they shouldn’t expect an immediate rescue. Although SAR volunteers work 24/7, there is a considerable amount of assessment, planning, and allocation of people and resources. Depending on your location and the time of day SAR was notified, “Be prepared to spend the night,” adds Patterson.

Sisters - The Old West, All Grown Up

The very thought of spending the night in the woods should spark enough concern to be prepared for that possibility.

Lieutenant Michael Biondi, special services coordinator advises, “Weather here can change drastically from area to area just in Central Oregon. Know the weather forecast and always carry extra clothes.”

Be prepared to spend the night. Evacuation could be walking with assistance or being carried out by litter. In remote regions, or for a severe injury, it could be a helicopter evacuation.

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“You can ask for that resource (helicopter) but it is not necessarily available to us all the time, so for somebody with twisted ankle or injured knees, that’s not considered life-threatening injuries,” Patterson said.

That hiker will be evacuated by litter, Patterson, says.

Patterson continues, “The general public doesn’t realize that most of our search and rescue people are retirees. We have a lot of people that are at about age 50 that are going to go help out the 20-year-olds. And so the people we rescue are usually a lot younger than the people that are rescuing them.”

Litter evacuation is not easy.

“It takes at least 12 people so we can switch out people carrying a litter through the woods. It’s hard work and it really wears you out, so you can go (only) a short distance. We carry a lot of medical equipment, a lot of recovery equipment,” Patterson, said.

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