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Trio of rescues have happy endings

In a jam-packed 24 hours, Jackson County Search and Rescue volunteers conducted three overlapping searches for people who were lost or missing.

By midday Tuesday, they had found all three: a hypothermic hunter lost in the snow in the Sky Lakes Wilderness, a couple in their 60s and 70s who lost their way hiking the Pacific Crest Trail near Little Hyatt Lake, and a Gold Hill man with dementia.

At one point, all three searches were going on at the same time, according to Sgt. Julie Denney with the sheriff's office, who described the overlapping searches as a logistical challenge, but "not unheard-of."

The first rescue occurred just before 7 p.m. Monday, when a Mill Valley, California, couple were brought back to their vehicle after getting lost earlier that afternoon on the PCT.

The couple, ages 67 and 73, called 911 at 4:46 p.m. to let dispatchers know they'd been lost for about an hour and couldn't find their way back, according to Denney. Their swift rescue was in part because they were able to maintain phone contact with dispatchers and deputies, Denney said, first providing 911 dispatchers with GPS coordinates, and then providing rescuers with landmarks to help find them.

"They were able to find them pretty easily," Denney said.

About 11 p.m. Monday, SAR volunteers hiked about four miles along the Alta Lake Trail in the Seven Lakes Basin of the Sky Lakes Wilderness to rescue a 43-year-old California man who was suffering from hypothermia after he lost his way while hunting.

Rescuers built him a fire, made a shelter, provided the man with dry clothes and stayed the night with him before hiking out together Tuesday morning. He was off the trail by 10:46 a.m., according to Denney.

The area inside the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest was closed because of recent fires, but it wasn't immediately known whether the man would be cited. Because it was on federal land, hunting enforcement falls outside the sheriff's jurisdiction, Denney said.

While the two searches in the mountains were occurring, other SAR volunteers searched parks and public areas for Forrest "Craig" West of Gold Hill, who suffers from dementia. West left his home 9 a.m. Monday without shoes, his wallet or identification, but a sheriff's deputy found him Tuesday morning wrapped in a blanket and walking down the street in Gold Hill.

Denney said that rescues tend to spike in the "shoulder seasons," when the weather just begins to change. Just two weeks ago, temperatures in the Seven Lakes Basin registered in the triple-digits. Monday it saw snow.

"It's really important to be prepared if you're going to be out in the woods," Denney said. "A short walk can turn into a tragedy if you're not prepared."

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.