Bender's Laws of Search & Rescue

Lt. Dan Bender of the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office in Durango wrote the following list. I met Dan on Kennebec Pass one glorious July afternoon, as he was coordinating a search for a missing minister and his young hiking companion. He later told me that the two were found, and that one had to spend three days in the hospital.

Lt. Bender is a jack-of-all-trades 20-plus-year member of law enforcement in southwestern Colorado. His duties with the Special Services Division include Search and Rescue liaison, S.W.A.T. team commander and trainer, oversight of the D.A.R.E. program, court security, transport, front office administration, fleet, and "anything else that is too small to warrant a full-time supervisor," as he puts it. After countless Search & Rescue missions in the backcountry of Colorado, there’s no one more experienced in the "Murphy’s Law" aspect of mountain rescue than Lt. Bender. And so, in his own words, I give you. . .

Bender’s Laws of Search & Rescue —

  1. The lost person is always in an area where four maps come together.

  2. The lost person will be found by another group at the moment you complete your descent into the most forbidding drainage on the map. Your ride out is back at the top.

  3. The lost person, according to their family, is an expert in the backcountry, in excellent physical condition, and would never go into the area where you eventually find them.

  4. The lost person, once you find them, will say they were never really lost, nor in need of rescue.

  5. The helicopter will always land well uphill of you if you have to carry the patient.

  6. The departing helicopter will have room for everyone but you.

  7. Your pack will be on the helicopter that just left.

  8. Fully charged hand-held radio batteries aren’t.

  9. A "day hike" frequently takes two days.

  10. The less survival gear you take with you, the longer you will be lost.

  11. At nightfall, you learn that the headlamp batteries are in your roommate’s/child’s game, at home.

  12. The footprint you call in to the Command Post will turn out to be your own.

  13. The food wrappers you call in as clues were left behind by another search team.

  14. The typical ‘dawn’ search begins at 9:00 a.m., unless delayed.

  15. The helicopter that drops you in the middle of nowhere will break down and not return.

  16. The map issued to you will not include the area you have been assigned to search.

  17. The correct map for your area will arrive just after you leave for the field.

  18. The next item you need will always be in the bottom of your pack.

  19. The odds of your mountain bike breaking increase the farther you are from the trailhead.

  20. Your team’s sack lunches were left behind in town.

  21. Your emergency pager will only go off when you leave it at home.

  22. The fewer the rescuers or the greater the distance of the carry, the heavier the patient will be.

  23. If your sleeping bag zipper won’t unzip, a bear will soon visit you.

  24. The lost person will be found in the area you wanted to search, but didn’t get to.

  25. It won't storm unless you left your foul-weather gear in the car.

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