TNSAR Search 12/19/2007

Out of County search for the Dominguez Family at Inskip

On Tuesday evening, December 18, TNSAR was called by Placer County Sheriff to respond to an ongoing search for a family of four at Inskip, north of Paradise, in Butte County, CA. We were asked for skiers, snowshoers, or ground searchers. We planned to meet at Burton Creek at 3:00 AM in order to make it to the scene by 7:00 AM. In addition, the PACT team (Placer Avalanche Canine Team) was dispatched and responded with four members with their dogs.

Monday and Tuesday had brought stormy weather to the Tahoe Truckee area, but snow accumulations at lake level were only a couple of inches. The search scene was about 4,500’, and we were informed that there was about 2’ of new snow at the search area. There was no snow prior to this new snowfall.

The following is based primarily on newspaper reports:

The Dominguez’s, (father and three teen aged children) went to find a Christmas Tree in the woods north of Inskip on Sunday afternoon. The kids had done this for the last 5 years, but this was the first time for the father, who had moved up from L.A. in order to be closer to his children. They were all dressed in tennis shoes, cotton jeans, sweatshirts, and or “light” jackets. They had no food, water, or flashlights. They parked their truck on the gravel road and went down slope (east) and found a tree. On returning to the road, it became clear that they had become disoriented. They ditched the tree and split up to find the truck. After dark they had rejoined and were thoroughly lost, but still on a road. They made shelter against a fallen log with branches for a roof. It snowed about 8” overnight. Monday they moved and found a culvert under the road, they took shelter there, made a HELP sign in the snow with sticks and awaited rescue. It snowed another foot or more on Monday, then was wet and drippy Tuesday and Tuesday night.. They were located 2.2 miles north of their truck, and had crossed over to the West side of the main ridge into the Bull Creek drainage. Traveling about 4 miles by road.

Our team met at the Sheriff’s station at Burton Creek at 3:00 am. There were six skiers, one PACT member and two Sheriff’s. We met three additional PACT members in Truckee and then convoyed to the search scene at Inskip. By our arrival at 7:00 am there was already a large number of SAR personnel and equipment on scene and they continued to arrive. By 8:00 am there were approximately 50 volunteers in addition to Sheriff’s, snowcats, Argo’s, etc. The Placer County ground search team had responded with about 12 members.

All the Placer and Marin county teams were assigned to search a drainage 0.1 x 0.4 miles which ran from the truck down slope east to the Feather River. With 30 searchers we established a grid and scuff searched the area. The PACK team members determined that their dogs would be of limited utility on this assignment and joined with the ground teams. On completion of this assignment, about 11:00 am, the Marin County team requested that they search down stream on the Feather River. The Nordic and PACT teams requested that they return to the Truck and drop into the trails and drainages West of the road. After gearing up for an extended deployment we were returned to the Truck by snowcat. At that time the California Highway Patrol Helicopter, H-20 reported sighting a HELP sign in the snow with a man waving. They then picked up all four survivors in two trips and dropped them off at a local high school.

Placer County made an excellent showing at this search, sending about 25 well equipped volunteers between the Nordic, PACT, and Ground teams.

The subjects of this search were poorly equipped, but survived three nights in bad weather and were still in remarkably good condition. They stayed together and maintained a positive attitude throughout. In addition, they could be poster children for the Nordic Teams “Winter Awareness” program:

Stop: They stopped and considered their situation once they were lost. They then stayed put and conserved themselves.

Shelter: They made shelter the first night, and then when finding the culvert, they used that.

Signals: While sheltering in the culvert, they made a “big and obvious” signal, HELP in the snow, which directly lead to their rescue.

Sheriff Dispatch Comm Van Truck Skiers Snow Cats Snowmobiles Other
Sage Russ Viehmann Steve Twomey
Bob Wright
Jim Rienstra
David Wright
Jimmy Smith
Steve Reynaud
PACT members:
Peter York
Brian York
Eric Knudson