By Mary O’Keefe
The search for missing hiker Ertug Ergun, 33, involved Los Angeles Search Dogs, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Mounted Search and Rescue, LASD Air 5 and search and rescue teams from Antelope Valley, Sierra Madre, Santa Clarita and our own Montrose Search and Rescue. They spent hours searching in dense vegetation on trails that show the scars of the Station Fire. The temperatures rose, the days passed and they kept searching.
I have covered several of Montrose Search and Rescue calls and their training sessions. When I first discovered them, I was amazed by their skill and their professionalism. As I got to know them, I was amazed at the patience of their family members and how they understood the MSR mentality of running toward the fire instead of away, climbing a wall of ice, rappelling out of helicopters and hiking for miles with heavy packs to rescue people and, in some cases, dogs. All as volunteers being paid $1 a year.
I know a little about volunteering. I know what a strain it can put on your career, your family and your personal wellbeing. For those of us in Crescenta Valley that volunteer, we do not go half way on the effort … ever. When we are in it, we are in it for the long haul. Days off, when they come, just mean we may be able to volunteer a few hours on another project. I can tell you my calendar is always full and still I am astonished at the volunteer hours the MSR team members put in.
I have covered their rescues, and recoveries, for several years however last Friday was different. I was there as they saved a child’s life.
I was at the Stonyvale Picnic Area. MSR members Mike Leum and Janet Henderson had just left the area, along with Michael Kaae and search dog Sirius. They were beginning another search for Ergun. I was sitting with MSR team member Fred Koegler when Mike’s voice came over the radio: “Baby girl; face down in water, unconscious when we got here.”
Immediately the radio chatter began by calling the L.A. County Fire paramedics and helicopter. Steve Goldsworthy’s voice first came on the radio; he was near Mt. Luken’s with the second half of the search team. He was coordinating the helicopter. Leum’s voice continued to give updates on the child’s condition.
Capt. David Silversparre got on the radio to help with emergency responders. There was no panic, no unnecessary chatter on the radio – it was simply, “This is what has happened and this is what is being done.”
At the site, Janet had noticed the baby in the water as they were approaching. She yelled for someone to get to the child. The mother picked the baby up and handed her to Mike. The girl was limp, not breathing and blue. Mike gave the baby back blows and she coughed up a lot of water. She began to breathe. Janet, an emergency room nurse, took over and evaluated the baby’s condition. She advised that the child needed to be airlifted to hospital. Mike, Janet, Michael and the mother and baby walked out of the creek area back to the picnic basecamp. The mother carried the child.
With Mike driving, they got into the MSR vehicle and drove immediately up to the nearby helicopter-landing site. Paramedics arrived and then the LACoFD helicopter landed and transported the mom and baby.
Mike and Janet came back down to the picnic area, put their gear back on and they, along with Michael and Sirius, walked back to the trail to continue their search.
For me, it seemed a little surreal. As a mom who found my young child not breathing when she was seven days old, I know the panic that can come over someone. And as a mom who had gone through this, I felt like I needed to do something when they returned. There needed to be a big welcoming committee or something, but like most of what this team does, there is no one there but other team members. A lot of what MSR does receive no attention. They find someone, they get them home or to medical treatment and they go on to the next call.
It is frightening to think what would have happened to that child if Janet and Mike were not there, if they hadn’t decided to leave the picnic area at that time and take that specific hike through the creek. I hope the parents of this child realize how lucky they are to have these professionals come upon them.
As for me, I am grateful that we have MSR as part of our community. And they have supportive families who allow them to be on volunteer call 24/7.