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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