The Searchers of G.I. Joe Search and Rescue

The OC group goes into the California wilderness to find the missing—and to honor a brother who was swept away

Team members began the search near Mountain 99, the Point Last Seen (PLS) of Minh and Scott. At about 10:30 a.m. on June 25, they saw a CHP helicopter hovering over the river. Authorities were searching for a 53-year-old man from Palmdale who had been reported missing the day before. They found his body in the water, caught on a tree. A swiftwater rescue team pulled him to shore.

Then, about 20 yards away from the recovery, authorities spotted another body caught on a tree in the river. It was Minh.

G.I. Joe Search & Rescue members watched the recovery from afar. It was bittersweet, they described. "We were just happy to see the family in a better state," Vincent says.

Unable to find Neacato that day, they returned home and headed back to the river the following week. On July 2, at 11:30 a.m., Santos spotted Neacato. He and Vincent tied the body to a tree so it wouldn't float away, and then they alerted authorities. "It's a powerful surprise," Vincent says of finding a body. "It hits you and brings you to your senses. It's tough, but it's a good feeling."

"We know we're crazy," says Victoria. "We know we're not equipped, not trained. But we're the ones who have the heart to go out there." 

For Edison Neacato, knowing his son's no longer out in the wild, alone in the elements, is enough to give him peace. "He's not out there no more," he says. "We know where he is. It feels better to know."

As for G.I. Joe Search & Rescue, he declares, "They are the heroes, in my opinion."

At last, he can go home.

 

This article appeared in print as "The Searchers: G.I. Joe Search & Rescue goes into the California wilderness to find the missing—and to honor the brother who was swept away."

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13 comments
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mazesclarson

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Long Hoang
Long Hoang

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Heavynle
Heavynle

If the professionals are so equipped and trained, why are they not in the water looking? If the "professional" did their job, maybe G.I. Joe Search and Rescue wouldn't have to go out there and risks their lives. With little training and equipment, they bravely lend a helping hand and expect nothing in return whereas the professionals get paid (with our tax dollars) yet sit around and watch families go search for their love ones. If it was your son you wouldn't say the same.

whatisgoodforu.com
whatisgoodforu.com

Please get your terminology correct when disparaging a large group of people.

Most firefighters, police, sheriff, etc. are paid public service employees. They are professionals, they get paid for performing their duties.

Most SAR personnel are volunteers that devote significant amounts of time, energy, and money in becoming trained and certified in Search and Rescue. They are utilized by the aforementioned agencies to assist in operations such as a swiftwater search, resuce, or recovery. The training is extensive for a reason, the last thing anyone wants to see during an operation are additional victims that need to be recovered due to a lack of training.

I applaud this group for their motivation, energy, and commitment but I question where they are focusing their efforts. There are many established organizations that can train them all to truly become assets in the field and mimize the probability that they too become victims, good intentions notwithstanding.

Itwister23
Itwister23

Remember not too long ago, on national news more than a dozen of Fire Fighters in east bay San Francisco standing and watching a man slowly drown and disapear in the ocean, because of no budget or what ever reason???? They are proffesionals. We should encourage them and need some PROFFESIONAL volunteer to train them. These people are good hearted.

anotherview
anotherview

I applaud the motivation of these citizens but I would question their judgement. Almost all SAR in California is done by volunteers, through law enforcement agencies that demand strict training and experience for a reason. Statistically most swiftwater fatalities are well-meaning, poorly trained would-be-rescuers. The reasons most SAR teams are cautious about recoveries in swiftwater conditions is not from a lack of compassion, as implied by the articles author, but a knowledge of the risk. Is it worth losing a living person in the effort to recover someone who has passed? As a write this hundreds of well trained, experienced SAR volunteers are gathering in Canada to mourn the loss of a SAR member lost during a training in swiftwater. These are volunteers too. Ones that have dedicated their time/energy/money to get the needed training to help those they have never met and even they sometimes find themselves giving the ultimate sacrifice. Unskilled volunteers will find these risks multiplied exponentially. I would encourage these folks to take the path of the far less media saturated world of established volunteer SAR. They will gain the training and experience to make wise decisions in the field and not put others at risk should they experience the unthinkable and need skilled, trained SAR individuals to come to their aid.

Noble motivation does not always translate to thoughtful, experienced behavior in the field. I hope they learn the lessons of the generations of rescuers that have gone before them, and not learn painful lessons the hard way.

Observer
Observer

I'm getting so tired of "professional" heroes. Train, train, train. Bring in helicopters. Buy equipment. More training.

You know what? People have been pulling people --- and bodies, sadly -- out of rivers for centuries. I'm not sure where you get your statistics, but I seriously it doubts to situations like this -- more likely, it's a mom going after a child or a friend jumping in for a friend right away. Those are emotional decisions, not like this group.

I admire the GI Joe group and think they need to continue their efforts. Common sense is a powerful tool -- let the "professionals" decide its too dangerous, or too expensive, or whatever, then just do it yourselves.

PCT1980
PCT1980

You're so tired? I hadn't thought it was so exhausting watching people train and risk their lives for others.... And common sense led people to cross rivers when they shouldn't and ignore signs that warned them of danger.

Michaelkite
Michaelkite

The only difference between volunteer professionals and volunteer amateurs is training. Let’s hope GI Joe gets some before they get hurt or hurt someone else. Just getting out there and “doing it yourself”, especially swift water rescue, is a recipe for disaster.

PCT1980
PCT1980

I remember Victoria Le's comments, as described by the media after the loss of her brother, were uncharitable but I think what she is currently doing is laudable. From what was described in the article the emphasis of her team seems to be search and not rescue. When they located the body of the drowning victim they didn't attempt an actual recovery but called in a trained Swift Water Rescue team.

Marie
Marie

Derrick Rush has also been swept away in the Kern River this week.

 
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