A Funny Rescue Story

By George Bell (gibell@comcast.net)
Written 1994

When I was living in California, a friend of mine, Steve, worked in mountain rescue and had some funny stories to tell. Here is one of them. This is a true story (as far as I know).

Our hero, Steve, is awakened at some gawdawful hour to aid in the search for an eight year old girl who that day became separated from her parents during a hike in the mountains. Steve is instructed to meet a policeman at the nearby home of the girl's family, where they will break into the house to obtain various objects to aid the search; then he is to drive 2 hours up into the mountains to join the foot search before the girl becomes hypothermic or something's dinner.

The fun of legally breaking into houses is one of the often overlooked benefits of rescue work. Their mission: to obtain items of dirty clothing worn by the girl (for the bloodhounds) and photos of her (for the searchers). This was all done quite easily; the policeman doing the dirty work of breaking a window and keeping watch to allay the fears of dutiful neighbors. Steve quickly emerged from the house with the desired loot. He showed the policeman the framed photograph of the lost girl, her arms around a trusting golden retriever. A father himself, Steve could only imagine what terror this child was now in and he prayed for her safety. He slapped a flashing light to the top of his car (with which he could legally speed) and raced on into the night.

The search scene was chaotic, with a large volunteer force assembled to find the girl before sunrise at any cost. The temperature was already below 40 degrees, and clad in shorts and a T-shirt all knew it was unlikely she could survive a night in the open. Steve's photo was a popular item, eagerly passed from hand to hand. Although all had been given a brief description, the happy smiling face increased each searcher's incentive.

Finally the photo was passed to the girl's father. For him it was the end of a long and stressful day, filled with self recrimination and endless questioning. He stared blearily at the photo for almost a minute, tilting it this way and that to get a better view in the sea of headlamp beams. Finally Steve approached and trained his own headlamp on the photo. The horrible truth finally dawned on the father, and he gasped

"This isn't my kid ... we don't even have a dog!"

Steve's mind reeled with the consequences of this statement. My god they had broken into the wrong house! The bloodhounds were now completely off track. How had they messed up the address? Why hadn't he thought to double check the address, or the name on the mailbox? Steve sank lower and lower to think how he had utterly failed in his part of the rescue.

Fortunately the mother arrived and soon the entire crew erupted in laughter. She had just bought the frame the week before and they had not yet replaced the original advertising photo with one of their own. Had Steve looked carefully, he would have seen a price tag still on the glass. So they had broken into the right house after all.

The rescue itself also had a happy ending, as the girl was found some hours later cold and terrified, but uninjured. Steve had never been happier to see someone that he helped rescue.

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