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Santa Barbara Search & Rescue Team Members Help Rescue Missing Hiker in Sierra National Forest

The injured hiker is carried to the helicopter landing zone by members representing a half-dozen mountain rescue teams from throughout the state, including Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue team member Don Gordon, third from left.
The injured hiker is carried to the helicopter landing zone by members representing a half-dozen mountain rescue teams from throughout the state, including Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue team member Don Gordon, third from left. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)

Two Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team members are back home and forever changed after assisting in an unforgettable rescue that made national headlines. 

Miyuki Harwood, 62, of Orangevale, Calif., was remarkably found alive on Saturday in the Sierra Nevada National Forest near Fresno after being missing for nine days. 

Harwood, who suffered broken legs, survived by drinking filtered creek water and by using a whistle to lead rescuers to her location.

Search and Rescue team members Don Gordon and Craig Scott were searching in the area near where Harwood was found and were able to assist in her rescue.

On Thursday, the SBCSAR team received a state-wide mutual aid request from Fresno County to help search for Harwood who was last seen Aug. 22, near Horsehead Lake, approximately 19 miles from the Wishon Reservoir Trailhead. 

The search area was located in high alpine terrain at elevations over 10,000 feet. Smoke from the Rough Fire, located about 10 miles to the south, was heavy throughout the search area, hampering search efforts and the use of helicopters for search and deployment of over 50 ground search personnel.

The SBCSAR team, a Type I Mountain Rescue team, was assigned four separate search areas that covered approximate 4 square miles located about 1 mile west of Harwood’s last known position.

The team arrived in the field Friday and immediately began a search through technical boulder fields below local steep alpine slopes in their assigned search areas. They set up camp in the area Friday night and continued their search early the next morning. 

Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue team member Don Gordon exits a Chinook Helicopter on the first day of the team search assignment at 10,000 feet elevation in the Sierras. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue team member Don Gordon exits a Chinook Helicopter on the first day of the team search assignment at 10,000 feet elevation in the Sierras. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)

At approximately 8:30 a.m., another team heard a whistle down in a ravine near a creek about ½ mile from where SBCSAR personnel were searching. After climbing down steep rocky ledges, a team from Marin County Search and Rescue found Harwood within the Fall Creek Drainage with two broken legs she suffered from a fall after she went for a solo hike nine days earlier. 

SBCSAR responded to the location and was on scene shortly after she was found. They assisted in her medical treatment and rescue which included packaging her in a stretcher, raising her up over a ledge out of the ravine, and then carrying her ¼ mile to a landing zone. 

Harwood was placed into a CHP helicopter and air lifted to a Fresno hospital where she is recovering from her ordeal.

Due to smoky condition, SBCSAR, along with about a dozen other search and rescue teams from throughout California, stayed an extra night and were picked up early Sunday morning by a California Air National Guard CH-47 Chinook helicopter.

Don Gordon, who has been on the SBCSAR team for four years, said it is an experience he will never forget recalling.

"It was very cold at night as was evident in the ice I found in my helmet when I woke up Saturday morning, so to find her alive after all these days was incredible," he said. 

Due to the remoteness of the area and the dense smoke from the Rough Fire, many searchers had to hike in for a day-and-a-half just to get to the search area. When the smoke cleared enough, a Blackhawk helicopter, a Chinook Helicopter and drones were used. 

Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue team member Craig Scott (in red) peers down into typical granite field in their search area looking for a missing hiker. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue team member Craig Scott (in red) peers down into typical granite field in their search area looking for a missing hiker. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)

Search managers felt Harwood was at the end of the time period they thought one could survive. 

However, Harwood was in excellent physical condition and mentally tough as a result of her triathlete training, so searchers were hopeful she could be found alive. After breaking her legs, she crawled two days to reach a small creek with water. 

While she went without food for nine days, she fortunately took a water filter pump with her. 

After filling up a water bottle, she then crawled back up the bank to an area with a layer of pine needles from overhanging trees to provide some insulation from the ground during the nights. Each morning she would crawl back down to the creek to filter water into her bottle before returning to her makeshift bed to await help. 

Several times during the days she was lying on her bed of pine needles, helicopters flew right above her but due to the trees they could not see her. 

Saturday morning she heard voices up on the ridge and, using a whistle she had with her, alerted them to her location. 

Searchers found her conscious and alert, saying how grateful that she was found.

Craig Scott, who has been with SBCSAR for six years said, “We train hundreds of hours each year for these types of search and rescue missions. To help in her rescue after all these days was an amazing experience that just reinforces why we do this work. To have dozen of volunteers throughout the state give up their personal time to participate in this search is pretty incredible.”

SBCSAR is an all-volunteer mountain search and rescue team under the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office. As part of the statewide mutual aid system, SBCSAR is frequently requested to assist other counties for lost individuals in wilderness areas.

The SBCSAR team is currently in the process of recruiting new members. If you are interested in learning more how you can participate in this elite volunteer organization to share in these type of experiences and give back to the community, the SBSCAR team is holding a recruitment meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the SBCSAR Station located at 66 South San Antonio Rd. in Santa Barbara.  

Also for more information, go to the team’s website at www.sbcsar.org or visit its Facebook page under Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue.

— Kelly Hoover is the public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department. 

 
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