Search and Rescue South – People power marks theme of this year’s 34 missions

Chaffee County Search and Rescue South members carry a victim out of a heavily wooded area in a Stokes basket in a July 5, 2019 rescue. Rescuers often need to negotiate rough terrain to get to victims in high country areas and carry them out for medical assistance. Front from left: Bob Elliot and Will Seligman; back: Amy Espinosa and Carlos Espinosa.


Chaffee County Search and Rescue South had a busy summer season despite COVID-19 restrictions that kept many visitors out of the high country until late spring.

Jinan Martini, vice president of CCSAR-S reported the total number of missions run by Search and Rescue overall was 34, roughly comparable to other years, however they have seen an increase each year.

She said each year there is a general “theme” in the types of missions each year. 

“One year it seemed we had a high number of people getting cliffed-out in McCoy Gulch as they descended Tabeguache; another year biking accidents seemed to prevail,” she said. 

This year’s “theme” was missions requiring a lot of person-power searches or carrying out of an injured person.

Additionally, about half of the missions were mutual aids, which means that other Search and Rescue groups throughout the State required additional assistance for a search or carry-out in their area, “which may be indicative of the number of people all over the State who took to the backcountry,” she said.

Carry outs are physically grueling Martini said. Even though equipment is available to make it easier, ideally a dozen or more people are required to take it in turn to carry someone over rough and uneven terrain.

This year’s COVID-19 safety protocols have made each mission more challenging. 

A number of missions throughout the season lasted long hours and even went over several days requiring many searchers, which are exhausting events, Martini said.  

She said one mission in particular stood out and demonstrates the collaboration of the county services.  

In late May a 4-year-old girl wandered away from her home in the wooded Four Elk subdivision northwest of Buena Vista, and couldn’t be located by her family.  

Shortly after the call went out, about 100 first-responders including the Sheriff’s deputies, SAR South and North, EMS, drone teams, divers, fire, AHRA and helicopters quickly assembled to work together to search Martini said.  

She said the logistics were complex due to the difficulty of the terrain, which was primarily uphill and required bush-whacking to maneuver through, and the number of agencies and people involved.   

The little girl was found by searchers healthy and unharmed, within a couple of hours nearly a mile away from home.   

Chaffee County Search and Rescue South is a not-for-profit, self-funded organization of volunteers.  

Its primary fundraising event is the annual Angel of Shavano Car Show. 

The money raised at that event supports two categories of expenditures—equipment and training.  

With this year’s COVID-19 restrictions, the car show was canceled, curtailing funds.

“As an organization, we tightened our expenditures this year to the minimum of needs like repairs and annual servicing of vehicles and communications devices such as radios and GPS, Martini said. 

Several donations came from businesses which have sponsored the Car Show in past years when they heard of the cancellation. 

Martini said the gesture was  “generous as we are aware that many businesses were in a similar position as CCSARS this past year.”  

Donations were also received through the organization’s website from other community members, as well as from people who received assistance from the group.  

Martini said, “Our community has been generous in their support over the years which is the primary reason we are able to make it through this year.”  

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