Heroes among us: Volunteer search and rescue teams save hundreds of lives

SNOHOMISH COUNTY -  More than 300 volunteers for Snohomish County Search and Rescue make more than 120 rescues every year.

One of those rescues happened in late August when two hikers went missing for five days near Sulphur Creek. They would not have been found if not for the volunteer Snohomish County Search and Rescue.

Inside a hangar in Snohomish is everything needed to save lives.

“There’s a couple of ice axes there. Sometimes when we leave the aircraft, with the hoist especially, if we're going on steeper snow,” said Yana Radenska, a volunteer with Snohomish County Search and Rescue.

Flight suits, practice dummies and even hovercrafts are other things you'll come across inside the hangar.

“They allow us to get into places in the water that are not reachable very easily,” said Radenska.

You might even see a food truck.

“You know how we talk about heroes? The food truck people, you can ask anybody in search and rescue, and they are the heroes,” Radenska said.

But when it comes to search and rescue, it’s crucial to have eyes in the skies that can find people who need help and pull them out of trouble.

“It’s invaluable. It saves lives. In a lot of cases, it just saves lives,” said Joe Carlson, training coordinator for Snohomish County Search and Rescue.

The “it” that he’s talking about are Snohawk 1 and Snohawk 10, Snohomish County Search and Rescue helicopters.

It was not too long ago when these helicopters were used to save lives. Back in late August, when it was great hiking weather, 59-year-old David James and 64-year-old Marshall Cabe decided to go on a week-long hike to a fishing spot near Darrington. They started that trek near the Downey Creek trailhead. After that trip was done, they decided to take what they thought was a shortcut, said Radenska. It became quite the opposite.

“There was no trail, it was super rugged terrain. Just a lot of trees and vegetation,” Radenska said.

After they didn’t return when they said they would, the call went out to search for them. One day missing turned into two.

“At that point, they were actually overdue by about three days,” said Radenska.

Radenska was out looking for the hikers aboard Snohawk 10, the first two days. She said it’s very difficult to find victims in that type of terrain.

“Just because they can see the helicopter doesn’t mean we can see them. Because we’re looking at a vast amount of terrain and they're just looking at us,” Radenska said.

Carlson helped coordinate teams on the ground.

“The remoteness of the terrain was the biggest challenge,” he said.

The two hikers split up. One stayed behind because it was just getting too hard, the other went to get help. They had run out of food.

“The one that made it out, it took him about five days to go six miles,” Radenska said.

It wasn't until five days after they were reported missing - 12 days total out in the wilderness - that they were finally spotted by a King County Search and Rescue crew who were aiding in the search.

They pointed out the hikers' location to the Snohomish County crew. A rescue tech hosted to the ground, and eventually was able to airlift a hiker.

Both of the hikers were eventually rescued.

This is just a snippet of the work of Snohomish Search and Rescue, 300-plus volunteers ready to go in a moment’s notice.

“It takes a lot of time, talent and treasure to belong to Search and Rescue because you’ve got to buy your own equipment, your own pack, boots all that stuff. So, there is an investment in the part of the volunteer,” said Carlson.

But this is what they choose to do. Many of the volunteers have jobs outside of search and rescue.

Some work in tech, others are retired. Some have first responder experience.

But when it comes to search rescue, it boils down to helping others when they need it most.

In Snohomish County, it’s their motto: "So that others may live.”

“I do this because I find it very gratifying to help people. And I don’t think that makes me a hero. I do it because I enjoy it,” said Radenska.