The anxiety around the search for David Koch is painful to read on various blog entries. An experienced outdoorsman who wasn't dressed for hiking, Koch went missing sometime after he took North Vancouver's Grouse Mountain tram last Wednesday evening.
By the time he was reported missing Friday, there was already anxiety about whether a proper search would be held, and whether an avoidable tragedy would in fact be avoided.
Being second-guessed, and dealing with agitated friends and relatives is standard procedure for search and rescue people. The entries on a few blogs questioning the search methodology and calling for public pressure to maintain the search are an understandable response to a situation where nothing has gone as hoped.
From my vantage point, David Koch's family has done an amazing job of maintaining optimism, showing support for the search effort, and lobbying for an ongoing search. And the volunteer searchers seem to have been relentless in their efforts to find the American publishing executive who drove straight to Grouse Mountain when he arrived on a business trip.
At least one Vancouverite shrugs off the search and rescue squad's explanation, and says the effort sucked, and appeared to be "disorganized and half-hearted." (See comments section of Shel Israel's blog and Darren Barefoot's blog, listed below.)
The call for untrained individuals to head into the rough country without training, survival gear and radios is scary. That's the last thing anyone missing in the mountains would hope for -- more people going missing. The gondola, ski chalet and view of Greater Vancouver can make the mountain seem deceptively safe. It's a mountain, with steep cliffs, ravines, slippery surfaces and many hazards waiting for even an experienced hiker. Aside from walking the main trails, which the rescue crews have already done, there really aren't a lot of opportunities for average citizens to join in the search, without creating the potential for another rescue operation. Most of the other work involves carefully exploring dangerous drop-offs, and widening the search to other, less obvious locations.
I think a lot of the frustration around this search comes from the fact that so little is known about what Koch did once he arrived on Grouse. An experienced hiker, he would know to hold still and wait out the night, if he got lost. However, it's not beyond imagining that he somehow became disoriented and for some reason didn't act like an experienced hiker.
The point is, no one knows. When you're doing a search, you're usually trying to cover the most obvious locations first, then methodically eliminate other possible locations. Any clues that would help you narrow the search would help enormously, but apparently there are no clues about where on the mountain he might be. By definition a West Coast mountain is a hard place to search, because there are just so many nooks and crannies where someone could be.
The helplessness no doubt felt by his wife, relatives and friends must be both terrifying and frustrating. Anyone who has had a loved one go missing even for an hour knows the heart-stopping fear that grips you as you run the possible scenarios in your head. In this case, the good news scenarios have slowly been playing themselves out, and the temptation is to blame someone. The family has resisted that impulse.
I pray the search continues as long as it can, in the hope that he can be found alive somewhere on the mountain. That's what search and rescue is all about: hoping that the next spot you check will yield results, but not giving up easily when you still can't find the person you're looking for.