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Woman's death a reminder to stay put

KLAMATH FALLS — The death of an Oregon woman this winter not only saddened search and rescue workers — it frustrated them.

Dawn Marie Harris, 47, of Sprague River had visited friends and was headed home when her truck got stuck on a spur road. She was reported missing two days later.

Once search units were activated, it took rescuers 45 minutes to locate the truck. But Harris had left. Searchers later discovered she had walked four miles through the snowy woods before dying of exposure.

Ben Quen and Jim Pitzer, two team leaders with Klamath County Search and Rescue, say those stranded by winter weather should remember "the three threes."

You can live three or more weeks without food, you might be able to last three days without water, but it's tough to survive three hours without shelter.

Harris left her potential shelter, which would have protected her from the elements. The truck also had three-quarters of a tank of gas, so she could have used the heater to help stay warm.

"We tell people, if they get lost just stay put," Quen said.

Sheriff Tim Evinger of Klamath County, who chairs the state's search and rescue commission, stressed the importance of technology. Most travelers carry cell phones or GPS devices. Even if batteries are dead or service is unavailable, cell phone records can be traced to determine movement, which can narrow the search area.

Coordination between search and rescue agencies has improved since December 2006, when James Kim and his family got stranded in their car on a snowy road in the mountains west of Grants Pass. After several days, Kim left his wife and two daughters to find help. His body was found several days later. Kim's family survived.

"The Kim family search was unfortunate, but it led to changes and advances," says Pitzer, noting each search and rescue incident has a paid search manager to ensure communication is coordinated and documentation is recorded.

Said Evinger: "Frankly, S and R has come further in the last three years than it had in 30 years. The bar has been raised."

But even if searchers keep raising the bar, the actions taken by the lost or stuck are often the key to survival.

"We never say we'll always find someone," Pitzer said. "We will do our very best."


Information from: Herald and News, http:www.heraldandnews.com