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1 September 2009 Dead Men Walking: Search and Rescue in US National Parks
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Objective.—To identify search and rescue (SAR) trends in US National Park Service (NPS) units.

Methods.—A retrospective review of the US National Park Service Annual Search and Rescue Reports from 1992 to 2007 and the SAR statistics for all NPS units in 2005.

Results.—From 1992 to 2007 there were 78 488 individuals involved in 65 439 SAR incidents. These incidents ended with 2659 fatalities, 24 288 ill or injured individuals, and 13 212 saves. On average there were 11.2 SAR incidents each day at an average cost of $895 per operation. Total SAR costs from 1992 to 2007 were $58 572 164. In 2005, 50% of the 2430 SAR operations occurred in just 5 NPS units. Grand Canyon National Park (307) and Gateway National Recreation Area (293) reported the most SAR operations. Yosemite National Park accounted for 25% of the total NPS SAR costs ($1.2 million); Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve ($29 310) and Denali National Park and Preserve ($18 345) had the highest average SAR costs. Hiking (48%) and boating (21%) were the most common activities requiring SAR assistance. Hiking (22.8%), suicides (12.1%), swimming (10.1%), and boating (10.1%) activities were the most common activities resulting in fatalities.

Conclusions.—Without the presence of NPS personnel responding to SAR incidents, 1 in 5 (20%) of those requesting SAR assistance would be a fatality. Future research and the development of any prevention efforts should focus on the 5 NPS units where 50% of all SAR incidents are occurring.

Travis W. Heggie and Michael E. Amundson "Dead Men Walking: Search and Rescue in US National Parks," Wilderness & Environmental Medicine 20(3), 244-249, (1 September 2009).
Published: 1 September 2009

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