On Saturday June 22nd, 73 year old Eugene Jo went hiking out of the Three Points trailhead in the San Gabriel Mountains with 6 other hikers. Around 3:00 pm Jo became separated from the group. He was found 1 week later on Saturday June 29th after a massive search effort by search and rescue teams from across California.
The Montrose Search and Rescue Team received a report of a missing hiker around 7:00 pm on Saturday June 22nd. As they began their search, the Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team and the Altadena Mountain Rescue Team were called to assist. Field teams searched the area through the night, watching the sunrise on their assignments.
On Sunday, fresh searchers from 7 of Los Angeles County’s search and rescue teams deployed, and search assignments expanded. In the daylight they searched the trails in the Mt Waterman area, as well as off trail areas near where Jo’s hiking group had lunch. On Monday June 24th teams throughout California were called to join the search.
In the end, 25 teams responded from 10 counties including teams as far away as Marin and San Diego counties. Approximately 3,200 acres were searched by 327 searchers alongside LA Search Dogs, Special Enforcement Bureau’s Unmanned Aircraft System, LA Sheriff’s Department and LA County Fire Department helicopters.
On Saturday June 29th over 75 searchers deployed into the field. That morning Jo was located deep in Devil’s Canyon by a field team from the Altadena Mountain Rescue Team. Jo was extracted by Air Rescue 5 and taken to Huntington Memorial Hospital where he was released later the same day.
Jo’s family said that he would not give up. They were correct. Jo drank stream water, ate plants and tried to signal helicopters with his red vest. He was deep in thick brush in a huge search area though so he wasn’t located until a ground team got close to him and heard his response to their voices.
The Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team (SMSR) fielded 23 team members who logged over 650 hours between time spent in the field and assisting the Montrose Search and Rescue Team with overhead management of the operation. In large scale searches Incident Management Teams play a critical role. Throughout the day, personnel in the command post manage radio communication with field teams, interview the friends and family, interact with the media, debrief search teams, and processes GPS track logs. Based on information from each days’ search assignments and new information, the Planning Section works through the night to determine where teams will search the next day.
As for the reactions when Jo was located, one SMSR team member reported, “I was elated when the radio call came in,” and another member shared that, “there were smiles, hugs, and tears of joy.” For now team members have returned home to wash off the dirt, tend to their bruises, and catch up on some much needed sleep. For SMSR it was a week spent in the service of their motto, “Anywhere in the wilderness someone needs help. . .”