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August 2011 How To Survive!

Posted in Features on August 1, 2011
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Well, you did it, something similar to that movie with the guy who went off on a solo adventure and didn’t tell anyone where he was and then had to cut off part of his arm to rescue himself and find help. You know, Tron. Alright, so maybe we haven’t been to the quadrupleplex in a while and are getting that movie title wrong, but we still know the basic concept: Don’t go into The Great Outdoors unprepared for something to go wrong. We wanted to bend the ear of U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kevin Wilson for tips on surviving if you do manage to get lost or stranded. He’s a SERE specialist at the Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington. By the way, SERE? Better known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape. The SERE courses at the Air Force survival school focus on giving aircrew members the techniques and skills needed to survive in any environment.

• We constantly harp on you readers to pack your Jeep with adequate supplies beyond spare parts. Consider yourself harped on again. And we don’t mean only extra food and water. Bring a first-aid kit and additional clothing for protection from the elements (weather has a tendency to be very different at the trailhead versus on the trail).

• A tarp and rope are also good to have along, in case you need to make an impromptu shelter.

• Other items to store in your Jeep would be matches, a small hatchet, your cell phone (fully charged), GPS, and a CB radio. Consider a signaling device too, such as a mirror, road flares, a whistle, or a strobe light (no, not for dancing—for nighttime rescue).

• Perhaps the most important items to have along on any four-wheeling trip? A map of the area and a compass.

• It has happened: You’re lost, or your Jeep has broken down, and you’re stranded. You managed to pack your galoshes, poncho, and Doritos, but not the map, rendering that compass useless and your ability to figure out where you are a hopeless cause. Should you stay with your Jeep or venture out on foot and try to find help?

• Take it away, Staff Sgt. Wilson: “Assess the situation. One, do you know where you are? Two, does anyone else know where you are? People have a tendency to panic and make hasty decisions that end up being detrimental to their survival.” In other words, take a moment to think about what’s going on—observe your surroundings and the situation, then plan with a clear head.

• About whether anyone knows where you are: Before you set out on any off-road trip, have a plan and let someone know what that plan is, including where you’re going, how long you’ll be, and when you expect to return. That way, if you don’t come home, search-and-rescue people will have a place to start.

• But should you leave the Jeep and venture out? Your supplies are in the Jeep, plus the Jeep is a large object that’s easy to see. It’s probably on a road or trail, so there’s a good chance of it being easier to find you there—so it’s safer. “I wouldn’t leave, and we don’t recommend people leave. It’s best to stay there unless something is driving you away, such as you’re running out of resources like food and water,” explained Staff Sgt. Wilson. Or someone is badly injured.

• You have made the decision to bail and head out on foot. It’s important to leave a note on your Jeep (or inside on the dash, or somewhere it will be seen and protected from the elements). “The best thing to do would be to put the date and time, what your plan is as far as which direction you’re headed, where you intend on going, and what kind of equipment you have with you,” recommended Staff Sgt. Wilson. “If you have your cell phone, write what the number is. If you have one of those basic FM radios, write that you’ll have it on this channel at a certain time once or twice a day so that you don’t have the radio on all day and waste the batteries.”

• What if there are two of you setting out on foot—should you split up? “Typically not,” said Staff Sgt. Wilson. “Two brains are generally better than one, and psychologically, solo survival is a lot harder.” But referring back to that situation of someone being hurt, you might have no choice, and ideally you should stick together.

• There are a few commonly recognized distress signals you could spell on the ground with rocks or sticks or whatever it takes. There’s SOS or HELP, of course. A “V” means you need assistance, while an “X” indicates medical attention is required. An arrow indicates the direction you’ve headed. Try to put the signal on a flat, level area that will be visible from the sky 360 degrees and not blocked by trees.

• You don’t need to start removing clothing and hanging items from trees as a way to let people know you were here. Most search and rescue guys are not expert trackers—they will be searching for you based on your last known spot, searching for larger clues from the air, such as your vehicle or a large distress sign.

• If you don’t have a map and/or compass or GPS, you might be out of luck. Sure, there are celestial aids such as the North Star, Pointer Stars, and Southern Cross , but they require skill to navigate. However: “If you have no means to navigate, you won’t necessarily walk in circles, but people tend to wander and end up crossing back over their tracks and starting over,” said Staff Sgt. Wilson.

• The desert, for example, could be a challenge because there aren’t many landmarks; you might think something is close, but in reality it’s a lot farther (think about when you’re in the ocean and looking back at shore), so orienting yourself could be difficult. Some people preach that if you follow a body of water, such as a river or stream, it will take you to a town, but if you don’t know for sure where it goes, why risk it?

• On that same note, crossing water or even a road might not be a good idea unless you are certain of what’s on the other side. “Rescuers are more likely to go to your last known location, and if you travel from there on foot you’re just going to put physical barriers between you and the rescuers, thus making it harder to be found. I wouldn’t do it unless I knew the town was that way.”

• Hooray! You hear the air team! Try to get to an open area, and then take off your jacket or shirt and fling it around or wave your arms—anything that will stand out—or use those signaling devices like the mirror or road flares.

• Or: Hooray! You hear voices! “The survivor’s job is to let the search-and-rescue person know where he’s at by calling out or using the whistle,” said Staff Sgt. Wilson. “They’re trained, so let them do their part.”


Fairchild Air Force Base

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