August 21, 2021
Desert Center, CA.
Written by Vinay Rao
The area around the eastern edge of Joshua Tree National Park where highways 62 & 177 meet is a common route for those going to the Colorado River, Lake Havasu City and Needles. On August 20th, RMRU received a call about a person who may have gotten lost in the area on August 15th. Responding RMRU members were Ray Weden, Steven Rider, Thomas Blanke, Kase Chong and Vinay Rao. RMRU met other search teams – Desert Search and Rescue (DSAR), and K-9 SAR as well as a Riverside Sheriff drone team at 5:00am on the 21st to begin the search since the forecast was for hot temperatures during the day. The teams were briefed about three 20 year olds that had driven to the area early morning of the 15th.
Apparently two jumped out the vehicle they were in and the driver continued for an undetermined distance on a sandy road before the vehicle became stuck where he fell asleep. Meanwhile, several hours later one of the individuals that left the vehicle called 911 approximately a mile NNE of the intersection of hwys. 62 & 177 and was rescued by a CHP helicopter. Unfortunately, he claimed he was alone and presented a vague story of how he was in the area. Hours after this, the stuck vehicle’s driver woke up and called for a tow truck. The driver informed the tow truck employee that there were actually two who jumped out but also vague about why the three were in the area and what may have happened. Given the significant lack of facts, the search teams were assigned to two areas. With Kase assigned to run the SarTopo program at base the remaining RMRU members were sent to where the vehicle was towed to look for footprints and to try and piece together what may have happened there.
DSAR and the K-9 teams were sent to the area where the CHP rescue occurred. RMRU quickly found the vehicle track and tow point just west of hwy 177 and searched extensively for any footprints but found none. The terrain was sandy and had anyone gotten out of the vehicle some sort tracks would have been visible. After searching for signs in the area from 6:30am to 10:30am the team returned to CP (Command Post) to re-group.
DSAR had better luck and were able to find footprints coming SSE from the hills north of hwy 62 that matched the boots that the missing individual was wearing. RMRU was sent to the area to verify the prints and was able to confirm what DSAR found and, with a high degree of confidence, follow tracks to within approximately 100 feet of hwy 62 where the terrain changed and no further tracks were visible.
The area was relatively flat and an extensive ground search as well as an aerial search with drones showed no sign of a person down and all teams were called back to CP. With no further information, the search was suspended and all teams were released.
RMRU members involved:
Ray Weden, Steven Rider, Thomas Blanke, Kase Chong and Vinay Rao.