'When you find your missing people, it's all well again'
NEAR DEXTER, Ore. - Night is setting in on the Willamette National Forest.
And Lane County Search and Rescue volunteers prepare as daylight slowly slips away.
"Every search is like what's this gonna lead me to, 'cause they're all a little different," said coordinator John Miller.
At base camp, it's a waiting game - until it's time for their orders.
"Sometimes you have over 100 people at base camp," said Miller. "You have teams coming and going day and night."
On this night, it's just a training mission, but these volunteers treat it as though it were the real thing.
From the gear, to the maps and the search parties, it's all as real as possible.
Before heading out, each team finds out exactly where they're going during a briefing.
"We've located the pick-up. no granddad, no kids," said a volunteer giving out orders. "Can't find them, we're calling you guys out."
It's a cold night, and for a lot of the volunteers, it will be their first time ever in the woods after dark.
"They have to go out and nurture those skills out in the field, going on searches," said Miller. "And that just builds their confidence and skill level."
Packs ready, maps in hand, volunteers are given a general area to search.
"The way I'm looking at the terrain, it doesn't look that steep either so we gotta really make sure if it's open, do a really good job searching for any clues you can see, footprints," said a volunteer looking at the maps.
Tonight, the group is heading about a mile from base camp, to search a heavily wooded area. SAR coordinators have placed "missing" subjects somewhere in the woods.
After a brief drive in a van, they're left on the side of the road with only a GPS to guide them.
And Miller said on a search every minute counts, and could mean the difference between life and death.
Volunteers will sweep miles of terrain in a single night, using whistles and lights to try to locate the missing subjects.
"We manage everything from base camp," said Miller. "It's kinda like a little tiny city."
After a long night of searching, Miller said, it's the best feeling when someone is finally found.
"When you've been out all night and you're soaking wet and everything else doesn't seem to be working very well and then you find your missing subject, it's all well again."