Group says outdoor enthusiasts are not getting the message

Two separate searches, on opposite sides of the island, prompt the province's search and rescue group to remind outdoor enthusiasts to "be prepared" because it could happen to you.

Search and rescue group says people continue to go in the woods poorly prepared

A search and rescue helicopter from Gander helped search for an 82-year-old in CBS. (Twitter@RNC_PoliceNL)

Two searches in one week, on opposite sides of the island — one for a berry picker, the other a hunting guide — has the group responsible for searching for lost people reminding outdoor enthusiasts to 'be prepared' because it could happen to you.

Bill Snelgrove, 82, spent a cold wet night in the woods in Conception Bay South, while, on the island's southwest coast, hunting guide Randy Hilliard spent three nights in a remote area of the Long Range Mountains.

Both men lived to tell the tale.

"They think they're prepared but they're really not," says Harry Blackmore, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Search and Rescue Association.

82 year old Billy Snelgrove's will to live kept him going while he was lost in the CBS area for a night. (Ted Dillon and Damian Morrissey/CBC)

His group oversees 25 search and rescue units across the province, with about 1000 volunteers, who conduct over 150 searches each year.

Blackmore appreciates how anyone could get in trouble, especially with fog and bad weather quickly moving in. Still, it's frustrating.

"We've been preaching and preaching what to take with you, but it doesn't happen," he said.

Don't count on cell phones  

Blackmore says, unfortunately, too many people rely on cell phones to get them out of trouble.

"Don't get me wrong (cell phones) have helped in some incidents, but in a lot of incidents it's a hazard," he said. "People think, 'I got this,' but as soon as you go clear of one of those towers, it doesn't work."

Harry Blackmore says after years of preaching the safety message, still far too many people go into the woods unprepared. (CBC)

Blackmore say a better bet for staying safe in the woods is any one of the satellite technology options out there.

"There's no excuse," said Blackmore. "You can get it. You can use it and that would save millions of dollars looking for people."

Expensive venture 

Blackmore says saving lives isn't cheap and the costs continue to grow.

During the search for Snelgrove last week, a Cormorant helicopter was called in from Gander.

"To bring a Cormorant in you're looking at 30 thousand bucks an hour."

"The cost right now is unreal. People off work, giving their time — police officers, helicopters — if you were out for four or five days, no problem to chew up 500 thousand dollars."

Randy Hilliard spent three nights lost, in the woods and walked out on his own two feet. (Gavin Simms/CBC)

How to be prepared

In light of the two searches last week, Paul French of the Search and Rescue Volunteers of Canada, says there are three things to remember when venturing into the great outdoors.

"Tell someone where you're going, whether it's a cell phone call, an email, or a sticky note left on the fridge," he said.

He adds, if you change that plan, let someone know.

Paul French, national coordinator of preparedness with SARVAC, says always tell someone where you're going and bring a kit with basic survival items like matches and a flashlight. (CBC)

French also advises you learn how to operate any life-saving gear you may bring such as a GPS, map or compass.

And finally, and arguably most importantly, pack wisely.

"Fire-lighting materials, a signaling device, a flashlight, extra clothes, extra food and water, compass, GPS, personal locator beacon. It's not much to take, but it can help you greatly if you're ever lost in the woods."

About the Author

Cec Haire


Cec Haire reports for CBC News from St. John's.