James McNutt of Grants Pass shows a team of rescuers how to secure a “victim” for transport out of the woods. Jim Craven 6/23/2007 - Jim Craven

Training for disaster

The scenario: Four people are strewn in the woods among the wreckage of a small plane crash in the Siskiyou Mountains in Southern Oregon.

The exercise: Without a landing site for a helicopter, searchers are faced with packing the victims out of the mountainous region, using litters and ropes.

About 45 people from multiple emergency agencies work as a team to complete the task, ferrying the "victims", who are volunteers from the agencies, to safety.

The exercise was one of several scenarios about 250 rescuers from eight agencies from Southern Oregon and Northern California played out Saturday as a part of a team training hosted last weekend by Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters.

The two-day event was the first annual training for the new California/Oregon Regional Search and Rescue (CORSAR) team, created to improve communication and coordination between agencies.

The team was formed in the first week of December in response to a probe of the 10-agency search for the Kim family of San Francisco.

The family became stranded in the snow after getting lost and turning on a logging road off Bear Camp Road in Josephine County. James Kim, 35, perished of hypothermia after hiking out in the snow to seek help. His wife, Kati, and two daughters were rescued five days after they were reported missing.

A review of the search effort pointed to a lack of coordination between emergency agencies.

"We have the same goal to keep people alive, but we haven't worked together very often," said Jackson County sheriff's Lt. Pat Rowland, CORSAR chair. "Gov. Ted Kulongoski's task force brought to light that every county is independent. They often don't have enough resources for search and rescue operations, but often don't call for help.

"The objective of CORSAR is to work together, train together and make our resources available to each other."

Emergency responders from Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Coos, Curry and Del Norte counties worked Saturday within a 100-square-mile area in south Jackson County near Hyatt Prairie Lake. They practiced rescue scenarios that involved canines, air lifts, all-terrain vehicles and what is known as a low-angle rescue in which emergency responders essentially slide the victim on a litter down a rope at high altitudes.

One of the volunteer "victims" in the plane crash in the Siskiyous is Tara Harley of Josephine County Search and Rescue. She lies on the ground with two branches tied to both shins to temporarily bind fractures sustained during a plane accident. James McNutt, of Josephine County Search and Rescue, hovers over her.

"We're going to sled you down there," he says.

He and six other emergency responders slide her on a green tarp and lift her onto a litter. Down an incline covered with debris, they carry her, stopping now and then to switch positions. At the steepest points, the rescuers fashion a rope system by which they slowly slide her down the hill.

Rowland said the exercises promote team-building and familiarize emergency responders' with each agency's techniques and their inventory of equipment. Exercises involving helicopters followed on Sunday, including static displays. Although Saturday was CORSAR's first training together, the team has joined forces to conduct five search and rescue operations since it was formed in December.

"At the end, we have a conversation about what went right and what went wrong, and we can look at how we can improve," Rowland said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or

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