Searching for a missing person is one of the most common rescue activities. Start a search only if you can answer "yes" to this question: "Does the missing person need help?" If the person is healthy, well-equipped, traveling where injury is unlikely, and experienced in climbing and route-finding, there's a good chance he or she will find the way back to the party within a few hours. You may decide to defer a search until the next morning to give the missing person time to return.
Start the search immediately if the missing person might have wandered onto steep rock or a crevasscd glacier, or is fatigued, inexperienced, or poorly equipped. Also get the search started right away if a physical problem, such as diabetes, is a factor, or if the missing person is a child. Search immediately if an entire rope team is missing after a severe storm, or in avalanche conditions, or on difficult terrain.
The thoroughness of a search will depend partly on how many searchers are available. A small party may be able to mount no more than a narrow search along a limited track. With a half dozen people, there probably can be a perimeter search. A large group can thoroughly comb a considerable area.
Regardless of the method, each person must know the full plan before the search begins. If the party decides to split up, each group must know where the others are. Arrange signals ahead of time: sounds such as yodels, yells or whistles, or visible signs with mirrors or lights. Establish a time and place for everyone to meet, whether or not they have found anything.
For safety, searchers should travel in pairs or remain within earshot of one another. Of course, this means that a search party of only two or three people can cover no more than a narrow strip of ground at a time. The best chance in this situation is to outguess the missing person. Put yourself in that person's place and visualize errors that might logically have been made. Check likely places such as the exits of off-route gullies and ridges.
If that doesn't work, retrace your party's original trail, searching all the way for tracks that indicate where the missing person wandered off. When such a point is found, proceed along the most likely path, watching for more footprints in snow, mud, sand, or on foot logs. In the absence of frequent footprints, searchers must fan out at broad intervals, calling to each other regularly and paus ing frequently to listen for calls from the missing person. If no clues turn up after several hours of searching, it's probably time to go for outside help.
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