How search crews found missing dog walker Annette Poitras
Search and rescue teams have some impressive technology at their disposal, but it was old fashioned boots on the ground that made all the difference in saving dog walker Annette Poitras this week.
The 56-year-old and the three dogs in her care were found alive in the Coquitlam watershed Wednesday after spending two chilly nights outdoors. Their discovery prompted cheers and a few tears from the rescue crews who had spent days battling gruelling conditions to find her.
Not all searches have such happy endings. But for volunteers like Aidon Pyne of Coquitlam Search and Rescue, the ones that do make it all worthwhile.
"To have this result, it reaffirms what we're doing," Pyne said. "It's just an overwhelming joy."
Their herculean effort was aided by crews from the North Shore, the Sunshine Coast, Lions Bay, Surrey and Ridge Meadows, and involved a number of moving parts and strategies.
They sent up two helicopters, including the RCMP's Air 1 chopper with a mounted infrared camera, as well as search drones. A mobile command unit, which they spent years fundraising for before setting up last year, was used to organize and co-ordinate search locations.
But Coquitlam search manager Ray Nordstrand said the key factor, as usual, was the volunteers.
"We look at social media, we look at different types of drones, each one gives us a little piece of the information but nothing on its own works," he said.
"Nine times out of 10, when it's a big search like this, it's the boots on the ground that end up making a difference."
A tip from the public did help narrow the search area; Marc Herr stopped for a cigarette while driving in the mountains Monday and happened to spot Poitras.
When he learned about her disappearance the next day, he immediately got in touch with authorities.
"I saw it on the news and [thought] oh my god, I'd seen her and the dogs," Herr said.
The search area was still large and treacherous, however. The terrain is covered with downed trees crisscrossed over each other with branches jutting out – a minefield of tripping and gouging hazards.
The day Poitras was finally located, Pyne was out with a group of five people traversing the forested area in a parallel line about 20 metres apart, covering 100 metres across.
They had been out for hours, periodically blowing whistles in unison and calling her name, when their search leader suddenly decided to whistle a few extra times on his own.
"Immediately we heard a loud yell," Pyne said. "It went from just nose down, working hard to cheering and getting over there to help out."
For their trouble, the volunteers received a little money for gas and some pizza. Considering the payoff, it was more than enough.
"We were looking for anything. Couldn't find a cellphone, couldn't find articles of clothing, couldn't find dog leashes," Pyne said. "It was a total mystery up to that point, and then it all made sense."
With files from CTV Vancouver's Maria Weisgarber