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Search and Rescue Ops Cost the National Park Service $4.8 Million in 2008

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Grand Teton National Park rangers work in some of the most dangerous search-and-rescue environments: the mountains. NPS photo.

There were almost 3,500 search-and-rescue missions conducted across the National Park System during 2008 at a cost of $4.8 million, according to the best available National Park Service statistics. One-hundred-32 of those missions involved a fatality, and 16 ended without the subject being found.

Far and away, though, most SARS had quick outcomes. In 2,632 of the 3,481 reported missions, the search was concluded within 24 hours. That said, 33 searches ran longer than one week.

Filling more than two dozen pages, the 2008 report points to some obvious, and not-so-obvious, details. For instance, as one might surmise, most of the searches -- 36.63 percent -- involved individuals between the age of 20 and 39.

But then there were some unexpected, or unusual, situations:

* There were six SARs stemming from cliff-diving incidents, one of which turned fatal.

* There were two cases in which a SAR was launched to help a would-be rescuer who in turn found themselves in trouble. One of those incidents resulted in a fatality.

* Thirty-three missions involved cycling incidents, one of which proved fatal.

* Snowshoers ran into trouble in the parks 11 times in 2008, and one of those proved deadly.

* There were 29 attempted suicides in the parks, 22 that proved successful.

* The deadliest activity in the parks? That would be ... day hiking. During 2008 there were 1,415 SARs spawned by lost or injured day hikers, and 22 resulted in fatalities. Swimming incidents generated 19 deaths, while caving and canyoneering combined to produce ... none.

Most incidents were spurred by individuals either making errors in judgment (13.64 percent of the total) or not being physically fit (13.52 percent).

And, not surprisingly, most SARs were launched during the weekend.
The Park Service's Northeast Region -- based in Philadelphia and claiming such parks as Acadia, Gateway National Recreation Area, the Statue of Liberty, and Valley Forge National Historical Park -- reported the most SARs, with 1,259. The Denver-based Intermountain Region reported 1,032 incidents, but 50 of those resulted in a fatality, the most of any region.

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