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Lost and Found: 388th SNCO helps with rescue

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- It was 8 p.m. when word that a 24-year-old male was lost in the woods near Fernwood Campground in the Wasatch Mountains - then a call went out to Davis County search and rescue personnel. 

In short order, teams set up a command post at the base of the mountains-- rescuers headed out to specific GPS locations in the area in search of the young man.
For Master Sergeant Ken Pitt, a relatively new face among rescue teams, it meant heading up Snow Creek Canyon. 

In this case, the lost individual had cell phone contact with the command post, but wasn't sure of his location. It wasn't until a DPS helicopter honed in on the light emitted from his cell phone by using night vision equipment that a rescue team was able to pinpoint his exact location. 

Even so, it took about four hours of searching, plus two more to get him out since that area of the mountains are covered in thick green shrubbery; teams had to literally cut their way through by "bushwhacking." Once he was found the team made its way to the nearby river bed and followed it out. It was 3 a.m. by the time the rescue was finished. 

At 39, Sergeant Pitt isn't the typical member of a rescue team - whether in the mountains of Utah or the depths of its many lakes and rivers. What he is, however, is an avid outdoors lover, so it seemed only befitting he worked in search and rescue since it provided training in skills he'd always been interested in anyway. 

For him, high-angle and swift water rescue, avalanche searches, man tracking, and missing person searches are all part of his "gig" when he's not in uniform as a jet engine intermediate maintenance section chief with the 388th Component Maintenance Squadron working on F-16 power plants. 

His "nine-to-five job," of keeping an eye on jet engine teardown, inspections, repair and rebuilding, pales to the fun and excitement offered by his off-duty interests.
"I love to dive," said Pitt. "And mountaineering is both challenging and relaxing at the same time. Mountain rescue is definitely harder -- the physical challenges are a huge factor. Trying to keep up with the 20 something's on the team is tasking." 

Think Safety First
Unfortunately, the team gets more work than they probably want. Pitt said it's because many climbers don't prepare for the hike they're planning - even the simple things like taking enough water or a flashlight. But safety with regards to water sports and mountain activities remain his area of expertise - people just don't seem to prepare as well as they should and take unnecessary risks. 

Know Where You're Going
"The 24-year-old was returning late from his hike when he tried to take a shortcut," said Sergeant Pitt, referring to the above save. "But it was dark before he made any progress. He had no flashlight or water. We found him by using night vision equipment from the light of his cell phone." 

He said, you also have to know where you're going, plan the route and stick to it. "If you intend to explore," he said, "familiarize yourself with the area and let someone know where you're going. And don't try to do anything you are not trained to accomplish, like trying to ride a snowmobile up the side of a cliff. One guy tried and it flipped backwards, landed on top of him and broke his back. 

Check Weather Conditions
"Pay attention to the weather," he stressed. "Weather can change on a moments notice, especially in the mountains; dress appropriately and watch for animals - there are rattlesnakes in the mountains as well as mountain lions." 

Same Goes for Water Sports
The same type of preparation goes for water-goers too. "The Great Salt Lake is deceiving," he said. "Although most of the lake is only about 10 feet deep, when storms come through swells of about four to five feet can be generated without notice. This is more than enough to capsize most small water craft, especially on the west side of Antelope Island. And bring enough floatation devices for everyone on the boat."