The successful rescue of a missing 80-year-old on the shores of Cold Lake last week reinforces the value of civilian ground search and rescue (SAR) teams, according to a member of Cold Lake Search and Rescue Society.

Richard Embree was reported missing to Cold Lake RCMP detachment around 6:00 pm on June 21. Jonathan McArthur, search manager with the Cold Lake SAR group, said the RCMP contacted his team about an hour and a half later and advised them to prepare to be called in.

“We went into the operational stance and we brought our team on to take a solid footing, so everybody knows that there’s going to be a call-out and what our plan is,” McArthur said.

The SAR team members are all volunteers who train together and respond when called to help in a search and rescue situation.

The search area was at Garnet Beach, which is not accessible by road. The team was able to put in about three hours of searching that evening before closing weather forced them to return to Cold Lake Marina.

They returned in the morning with help from Cold Lake Fire and Rescue, Cold Lake First Nations, Star Helicopter Services, and their SAR Society counterparts from Bonnyville, St. Paul, and Lac La Biche. A Fort McMurray team was also standing by.

The St. Paul team was able to bring its Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (drone) capability to the search. Eventually it was the drone team that found Embree conscious and responsive on the shore while they were boating between search locations. He was about two kiolmetres from where he had last been seen.

Embree was transported to Cold Lake Provincial Park and taken to Cold Lake hospital.

McArthur says the volunteer SAR teams are immensely valuable in such situations. They are capable of safely carrying out searches with more manpower than emergency services or the RCMP can provide alone.

“We provide people that you can put into an austere environment and that are able to conduct a ground search in a safe manner,” he said. “That’s not something you can find everywhere, and it’s a great resource for the province and for the local community.”

Using volunteer searchers allows RCMP and other agencies to carry on with their other day-to-day work while a search is underway. “We are a force multiplier for the RCMP and any other jurisdiction or agency that may need our services, because we can bring boots on the ground,” McArthur said.

Having a team of trained volunteers on standby is also cost-effective. McArthur said his team’s total expenses for the 20-hour search “is probably in the hundreds of dollars.”

The SAR groups do their own fundraising. McArthur says his team works as security at events to raise money. He feels their time would be better spent training than “getting their heads punched in” to raise money for the cause.

“It’s just such an intrusive thing to do with our time,”
he said. “And then we get called out—you don’t have a choice, you have to show up. You have to be committed to it. 

“So it’s kind of, you know, ‘why do we always keep seeming to put ourselves in this position?’ But then you go out and have a search like this and you get reminded why you do it.”