Madde Watts, SAR Advisor for California Karelians, helped coordinate and directed resources for the recently rescued family that was caught unprepared for a snowstorm while they were looking for a Christmas tree in a northern California forest. Watts also helped field questions for the media in the nationally televised rescue of the father, two sons and daughter.
The drama unfolded near Inskip, CA, in the Lassen National Forest, about two and half miles from Gold Hill, Watts noted. She said the communication process was difficult with only one phone line in an old lodge, hand held radios, and no cell phone reception.
The Dominguez family found the perfect Christmas tree on December 16, but got lost in the process, eventually walking nearly three miles from their vehicle, Watts said. The family set off on their winter adventure in the popular Christmas tree area completely ill-equipped to deal with the elements. Although there was no snow on the ground upon their arrival, things changed quickly as the storm approached.
They walked into the forest wearing tennis shoes and some jacket protection. They also had a hand saw with them. However, no food, no water, no compass, no whistle and no matches.
Following a couple of attempts to find their truck, and becoming very lost, the family found a culvert to seek shelter in. They used the saw to cut pine boughs to protect the ends of the drainage pipe from the storm. They had jackets and head gear, but their wet socks hindered their abilities to get warm. The teenage daughter’s toes began turning black, and this prompted the family to keep their feet warm by placing them in each other’s jackets.
The family was found on Dec. 19, after a helicopter spotted the word HELP written in the snow with twigs and sticks, and saw the red hat worn by one of the boys. They were airlifted to safety just before the next winter storm hit the region.
Watts said the father had a sense of humor and later he commented that next year the family would have an artificial tree for Christmas.
“Expect the worst,” Watts said, and be prepared for trips into remote areas. “It doesn’t take much,” she said to be “at the mercy of the elements.” Remember, if you get lost, “Stay put, stay safe.”
Take a look at our travel tips for a list of necessary items to have with you when you travel during the winter, or any other time of year.