01 Feb I’m a Search and Rescue Officer for the US Forest Service
I wasn’t sure where else to post these stories, so I figured I’d share them here. I’ve been an SAR officer for a few years now, and along the way I’ve seen some things that I think you guys will be interested in.
I have a pretty good track record for finding missing people. Most of the time they just wander off the path, or slip down a small cliff, and they can’t find their way back. The majority of them have heard the old ‘stay where you are’ thing, and they don’t wander far. But I’ve had two cases where that didn’t happen. Both bother me a lot, and I use them as motivation to search even harder on the missing persons cases I get called on. The first was a little boy who was out berry-picking with his parents. He and his sister were together, and both of them went missing around the same time. Their parents lost sight of them for a few seconds, and in that time both the kids apparently wandered off. When their parents couldn’t find them, they called us, and we came out to search the area. We found the daughter pretty quickly, and when we asked where her brother was, she told us that he’d been taken away by ‘the bear man.’ She said he gave her berries and told her to stay quiet, that he wanted to play with her brother for a while.
The last she saw of her brother, he was riding on the shoulders of ‘the bear man’ and seemed calm. Of course, our first thought was abduction, but we never found a trace of another human being in that area. The little girl was also insistent that he wasn’t a normal man, but that he was tall and covered in hair, ‘like a bear’, and that he had a ‘weird face.’ We searched that area for weeks, it was one of the longest calls I’ve ever been on, but we never found a single trace of that kid. The other was a young woman who was out hiking with her mom and grandpa. According to the mother, her daughter had climbed up a tree to get a better view of the forest, and she’d never come back down. They waited at the base of the tree for hours, calling her name, before they called for help. Again, we searched everywhere, and we never found a trace of her. I have no idea where she could possibly have gone, because neither her mother or grandpa saw her come down.
A few times, I’ve been out on my own searching with a canine, and they’ve tried to lead me straight up cliffs. Not hills, not even rock faces. Straight, sheer cliffs with no possible handholds. It’s always baffling, and in those cases we usually find the person on the other side of the cliff, or miles away from where the canine has led us. I’m sure there’s an explanation, but it’s sort of strange.
One particularly sad case involved the recovery of a body. A nine-year-old girl fell down an embankment and got impaled on a dead tree at the base. It was a complete freak accident, but I’ll never forget the sound her mother made when we told her what had happened. She saw the body bag being loaded into the ambulance, and she let out the most haunting, heart-broken wail I’ve ever heard. It was like her whole life was crashing down around her, and a part of her had died with her daughter. I heard from another SAR officer that she killed herself a few weeks after it happened. She couldn’t live with the loss of her daughter.
I was teamed up with another SAR officer because we’d received reports of bears in the area. We were looking for a guy who hadn’t come home from a climbing trip when he was supposed to, and we ended up having to do some serious climbing to get to where we figured he’d be. We found him trapped in a small crevasse with a broken leg. It was not pleasant. He’d been there for almost two days, and his leg was very obviously infected. We were able to get him into a chopper, and I heard from one of the EMTs that the guy was absolutely inconsolable. He kept talking about how he’d been doing fine, and when he’d gotten to the top, a man had been there. He said the guy had no climbing equipment, and he was wearing a parka and ski pants. He walked up to the guy, and when the guy turned around, he said he had no face. It was just blank. He freaked out, and ended up trying to get off the mountain too fast, which is why he’d fallen. He said he could hear the guy all night, climbing down the mountain and letting out these horrible muffled screams. That story bothered the hell out of me. I’m glad I wasn’t there to hear it.
One of the scariest things I’ve ever had happen to me involved the search for a young woman who’d gotten separated from her hiking group. We were out until late at night, because the dogs had picked up her scent. When we found her, she was curled up under a large rotted log. She was missing her shoes and pack, and she was clearly in shock. She didn’t have any injuries, and we were able to get her to walk with us back to base ops. Along the way, she kept looking behind us and asking us why ‘that big man with black eyes’ was following us. We couldn’t see anyone, so we just wrote it off as some weird symptom of shock. But the closer we got to base, the more agitated this woman got. She kept asking me to tell him to stop ‘making faces’ at her. At one point she stopped and turned around and started yelling into the forest, saying that she wanted him to leave her alone.
She wasn’t going to go with him, she said, and she wouldn’t give us to him. We finally got her to keep moving, but we started hearing these weird noises coming from all around us. It was almost like coughing, but more rhythmic and deeper. It was almost insect-like, I don’t really know how else to describe it. When we were within site of base ops, the woman turns to me, and her eyes are about as wide as I can imagine a human could open them. She touches my shoulder and says, ‘He says to tell you to speed up. He doesn’t like looking at the scar on your neck.’ I have a very small scar on the base of my neck, but it’s mostly hidden under my collar, and I have no idea how this woman saw it. Right after she said it, I heard that weird coughing right in my ear, and I just about jumped out of my skin. I hustled her to ops, trying not to show how freaked out I was, but I have to say I was really happy when we left the area that night.
This is the last one I’ll tell, and it’s probably the weirdest story I have. Now, I don’t know if this is true in every SAR unit, but in mine, it’s sort of an unspoken, regular thing we run into. You can try asking about it with other SAR officers, but even if they know what you’re talking about, they probably won’t say anything about it. We’ve been told not to talk about it by our superiors, and at this point we’ve all gotten so used to it that it doesn’t even seem weird anymore. On just about every case where we’re really far into the wilderness, I’m talking 30 or 40 miles, at some point we’ll find a staircase in the middle of the woods. It’s almost like if you took the stairs in your house, cut them out, and put them in the forest. I asked about it the first time I saw some, and the other officer just told me not to worry about it, that it was normal. Everyone I asked said the same thing. I wanted to go check them out, but I was told, very emphatically, that I should never go near any of them. I just sort of ignore them now when I run into them because it happens so frequently. I have a lot more stories, and I suppose if anyone’s interested, I’ll tell some of them tomorrow. If anyone has any theories about the stairs, or if you’ve seen them too, let me know.