Saturday, September 18, 2010

Search dog rescues injured man in Blue Ridge Mountains

Cross-posted at the Washington Examiner

Nineteen-year-old Koby Karuzis did not intend to become a victim earlier this week when he stopped to do some sightseeing on Poor Mountain located in the Blue Ridge Mountains outside Roanoke, Virginia. As he stood near the edge to take pictures of the scenery, he said the ground beneath him crumbled and gave way. Falling down the steep mountainside and banging his head along the way, he landed at the bottom injured, disoriented, and unable to climb out of the rugged, snake-infested terrain. Cold, alone, and injured, Koby tried to figure a way out but realized he was trapped.

Don Copen, who owns land near there, told ABC-13 News, "Lots of rattlesnakes. There's a trail about a half mile and then it ends and from that point on it's just rugged gorge: Brush, trees, fallen trees, fallen pines, very rocky... steep."

At just under 4,000 feet altitude, Poor Mountain is the highest peak in the area with all the unexpected weather conditions that go with an isolated wilderness setting. Its name was not derived from penny-pinching inhabitants but from the poor quality of its dry, acid soil making it the location of the world's largest growth of the rare piratebush although some dispute that, saying it was named after Major Poore who served under Andrew Lewis in the French and Indian War.

More than 40 rescuers were alerted about the missing man, and that was when the Blue and Gray Search and Rescue group from Harrisonburg was called in to help. A professional volunteer wilderness search and rescue organization, Blue and Gray's member Ronnie Rhodes and search dog Saibra, a four-year-old German shepherd, joined in the search along with other members.

Saibra found Koby when rescuers were alerted to his approximate location after he was able to light a fire that was seen by a search plane. From ABC-13:

"It was really steep. We had to slide down on our rears to get to him. It was pretty hairy," Debbie Thompson with Blue and Gray Search and Rescue said.

Using chainsaws, it took the rescue team more than three hours to hack a path through the undergrowth and another hour to carefully move the man almost a mile to a waiting ATV. From there it was another mile trip down a bumpy old logging road to an awaiting ambulance.

Blue and Gray's training director Kathleen Connor was happy with the outcome on Poor Mountain but added, "I've been doing this for about 15 years, and I have yet to find anyone alive."

Koby recalled the experience and a long, cold night alone, grateful to be home and grateful for the rescue team.

In the rugged mountains that flank the Shenandoah Valley, rescue teams such as the Blue and Gray are essential when hikers go missing. Their professionalism and dedication are evident from hours spent in this volunteer capacity, training their dogs and themselves, preparing for life-and-death situations, providing their own equipment and transportation, and their willingness to be there no matter the outcome. This time it had a good ending.

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