A volunteer operation in the Bay Area has saved numerous lives and continues to grow in size. It also relies on the youngest dedicated search and rescue volunteers in the country.
Jax Sandrich, from the Marin County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Unit, is training for missions that don't always end well.
"It's adrenaline, and it is tiring, and it is exhausting," Sandrich said. "Sometimes you're going into a mission knowing all you're able to provide is closure."
They climb steep terrain to locate missing hikers and bikers. They're often called in by first responders to help locate people in mental distress who are suicidal.
It's never an easy task, covering vast amounts of territory with limited resources.
"We're looking for clues which can be anything from surveillance videos to footprints to sightings," said Marin County Sheriff's Department Search and Rescue Unit Leader Michael St. John.
In March 2020 an elderly couple took a wrong turn while strolling through the woods in Point Reyes. They went missing for a week and were presumed dead.
The Marin SAR members relentlessly searched for days.
"We found them and clearly saved their lives," said St. John.
The all-volunteer crew undergoes rigorous training throughout the year. It's the only search and rescue team in the country that trains high schoolers to become full-time members.
"We're looking for the uncommon dedication because if a SAR member doesn't show up, nobody takes their place," said St. John.
The unit is averaging one mission a week often in other counties throughout the state.
"We also have very tragic outcomes. We find people that are not going to go home," said St. John.
"At least we're offering them the beginning of healing and maybe the opportunity for closure for people and those can be really difficult," said St. John.
On this night, they're testing a lightweight trail kit that makes the team more mobile when rescuing someone stuck in a ravine.
The combination of highly technical training, and real-life scenarios is giving high school students like Jax valuable life lessons.
"It's incredible. It's made me more calm under pressure and made me more articulate in stressful situations," said Sandrich.
"There's so many different things, and so many people who are willing to teach you," said high school senior Amanda Mueller.
"Seeing them operate with someone's life on the line and under these very stressful situations, by absorbing it all, I think I've internalized part of that and I feel very lucky to be out here," said Sandrich.
Their work often goes unnoticed in the dark and in the deep woods.
But all those hours of training are saving lives thanks to the men, women and youth of the Marin County Search and Rescue Unit.
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