A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.
~ Christopher Reeve
By Mary O’KEEFE
Imagine driving along a snowy mountain road in the Angeles National Forest. It’s a road you have driven so many times before you know every twist and turn. Then your tires hit a patch of black ice and, in what seems like an eternity, the vehicle is sliding from one side to the other. You desperately attempt to gain control of the car, but it is futile. In the blink of an eye your vehicle has plunged 350 feet over the side of a cliff.
Everything is quiet and still as you take an account of your injuries. You then realize you cannot make the climb back to the road. It is a road that is not heavily traveled and, as far as you know, there is no sign of the vehicle going over the side. You are alone, in the cold, with no way to communicate to anyone where you are.
That may sound like the beginning of an action movie but it was a reality for Tracy Granger who on March 25, 2012 lost control of her vehicle after hitting a patch of black ice in the ANF. Her white vehicle went over the cliff and landed in snow. For almost 24 hours, Granger stayed in her vehicle hoping and praying someone would find her. Her family had reported her missing when she didn’t arrive home and members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Montrose Search and Rescue team began searching for any signs of Granger.
MSR team member Jay Johnson was driving the route thought to be taken by Granger when he happened to see tire marks in the snow that appeared to indicate a vehicle over the side.
“It had just snowed the day before,” Johnson told CVW in an interview at the time. “It was a white vehicle and there was snow. It was difficult to see the truck, even from the top of the cliff.”
But he did see the vehicle and when fellow team members Cindy England and Robert Sheedy arrived the rescue began. Granger was transported to the hospital and four months later was able to thank the MSR team personally at an LASD event.
This is just one of the many stories that have a happy ending made possible by MSR team members. From rescuing lost hikers to helping paleontologists excavate an ancient whale, the life of the MSR team is one of adventure and service to others.
“[To be a member] takes a person who is willing to put in the time, to volunteer and go on patrols and call-outs. [They] need to be an active member, not just show up to join a club,” said John Camphouse, MSR captain.
The team is looking for recruits who run toward most situations that others run from.
MSR is part of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Dept. Members are reserve deputies who must pass the same requirements that those applying for any LASD job must meet. These include a background check and psychological tests.
“We are looking for candidates to become full team members,” Camphouse said.
Once cleared by LASD, team members train for a variety of scenarios with MSR including swift water and ice and snow rescues. Team members are also trained as emergency medical technicians.
MSR is composed of volunteer members who get paid $1 a year. They are ready to be called out to any and all emergencies 24/7 and though the commitment is high the rewards are higher.
The team has received many awards and recognitions from LASD, L.A. County and Congress, but it is the rescues, even those that turned into recoveries, that make being a part of MSR worth its members’ time.
“Two weeks ago, [MSR member] heroism was on full display. The team spotted a little girl face down, drowning in a pool of running water in the [Angeles National] Forest. The 18-month-old girl was unconscious and had stopped breathing when they pulled her out of the water. Thanks to them, this little girl was brought back to life to the unimaginable relief and gratitude of her family,” Congressman Adam Schiff read into the Congressional Record in 2012.
On June 29, 2012 MSR team members were looking for missing hiker Ertug Ergun, an engineer from the country of Turkey. The Consul General of Turkey had just met with the team to thank them for their efforts when team members Mike Leum and Janet Henderson began their hike into the area of Big Tujunga Canyon. Within a few minutes of searching along a river, Henderson noticed a young child face down in the water. The mother rushed to the child, picked her up and handed her lifeless body to Leum and Henderson. Due to their EMT training they were able to save the little girl.
Unfortunately the body of Ergun was found later. He had apparently fallen to his death while hiking. Even those rescues that become body recoveries are still valued by families because they are given closure as to their family member.
The men and women members of the team come from all walks of life and include doctors, lawyers, nurses and schoolteachers, Camphouse added.
Most members remain on the team for many years.
“I have been a member for 33 years,” Camphouse said.
In June, Dannie Hensley was recognized for 50 years of service with MSR. He participated in 762 call-outs, 512 meetings (which are held once a month), 494 trainings, 230 patrols and 175 public relation talks over those years.
“It is rewarding to serve the public and to help your fellow man in time of need,” Camphouse said.
Although MSR members are on call 24/7 they are not required to respond to every call-out. They work together as a team whether in or out of the field. Pages are sent out when they are needed and those who can respond do respond.
The Montrose Search & Rescue team is accepting candidate applications. Anyone who is interested in joining MSR can call LASD Crescenta Valley Station at (818) 248-3464.