Wednesday, March 25, 2009

K9 work and visual mantracking assignment

We had a local search yesterday, about 2.3 miles from my home. It all started with an MVA early in the morning and the driver and passenger missing. The passenger was soon found near-by, the driver eluded LE. I got called at 0545 and was on the road at 0615. My first two assignments were K9 assignments, working Stryder, who did his regular thorough job. My first assignment was to check the south boundary of the local golf course, to see whether that perimeter had been breached. While not in the immediate PLS area, I like to know the subject is still contained in the search area so checking the golf course made sense to me, especially since I would have been able to see tracks on the frosty short lawn and Stryder was nosing the woods in the perimeter. I worked alone with Stryder,but safety was not a major concern as I had good communications and was within sight of houses, one of which was our son's...

My next assignment was to check an area close to the PLS. This time I worked with two firefighters and Stryder. Again, the area was empty but we found one house on the Seneca Turnpike that had a truck, keys in the ignition, in the driveway and the house and barn were open. Stryder did not indicate any more than he would in a normally inhabited area, so I had no reason to work inside a place that is actually lived-in, but the owners were not on location. I did report it to command and the decision was to have the house checked by LE.

I got the next assignment before I could debrief from the second one. A grid team found a track that they believed could be relevant to the search. It was urgent for me to see the track as it was in or on ice and the ice was melting fast. So off I went to see the find.

The team did a good job preserving the sign and once discovered, made as little damage as possible to facilitate my work. I saw the print, agreed that time-wise it fit the picture as it had been made while the ice was thick, overnight, and not during the day when it melted to almost nothing or nothing. That track did not contain any sole information to be drawn, but I could make my measurements and it fit what we had been told the missing person might be wearing. I then proceeded to find more tracks and found sign, setting my tracking stick to both shoe size and stride, then step-by-step, tying the first visible track to another one the grid team had found and flagged. Here too, the heel shape was visible but not the sole pattern. Simply, at night the ground surface had a hard freeze and patterns would not be left for me. Even what now was muddy and a beautiful track trap showed little, no patterns but breaking of twigs, coloration changes on sticks, soil transfer etc. were my friends.

Now I was working the ONLY clue that we had all day. No other trained mantrackers were present. The question of whether to work with others, untrained firefighters or by myself. Well, safety was not a concern I was close to houses and other teams. I also train for mantracking by myself and only occasionally do it with a team, so I decided that I would search as I train and not have the added burden of managing a team and teaching them on-the-job. I thought about Joel and how he did that in Australia, but first, I'm no Joel and second, in Oz Joel needed any help he could muster. At this time, I felt I was doing well by myself. I took quick but frequent eye-breaks to let my eyes last longer. When working in a team of three, you kind of do that on your own, while the two others are working, but here, I had only my two eyes and needed to make them last. Funny, every time I had trouble locating the next step, I could hear Joel's voice telling me the track has to be at the end of my stick, and there evidently it was! After working this sign for over an hour, the sheriff's helo decided to check me out, and hovered over me for a while. I took a break and thought that I'm not advancing the line of sight fast enough and could do better. Well, I flagged the last sign I had worked step-by-step (marked a waypoint on my GPS too) and now started looking a little farther ahead, three to five steps, hoping to see the sign. Having worked step-by-step for over an hour, I had now an idea of the rhythm the footsteps fell, the kind of sign to expect on wet areas as well as on drier ones etc. I could now relatively easily see the sign ahead and so I advanced to that sign and started all over again. This worked like sending a cutting team a little and at an angle, ahead of the team working the sign and I always could go back to where I had sure, step-by-step sign and do it over. I never strayed out of sight of the last known track. That method worked well for me and I worked 800 feet to 1000 feet, perhaps more as the track was quite a serpentine but the GPS did not show it as such. I may need to increase my setting for visual mantracking from a point every 5 yards to a point every yard.

The one problem with that track was that while I could say it was made by the same person, at the right time frame, I could not say it was our guy, as I had no way to tie the track to the footwear the missing person might be wearing (other than size, but that is not enough). Help was on the way though, in the form of a well trained trailing K9 Maya and her handler Kyle.

Kyle has collected a scent article and now Maya would be able to tell us whether the track I followed was the right one. Maya said no, wrong person, so I ended my assignment there. I believe the track lead to a near-by cabin, but since it is on private property, I probably will never know for sure.

Stryder, my air-scenting dog was with me for this entire assignment, as I did not want to leave him in the truck for that long. He adapted so well, waiting until I got almost out of sight, then I called him, stopped him before my last known track where he waited for me to call him again.

We also deployed an air scenting dog team ahead of my location, as I told command I would be able to discern between the fresh tracks and the older ones, ones made when the ground was frozen solid and one ons the fresh meltdown.

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