Misawa sailors rescued after getting lost in mountains
December 6, 2006
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Two Misawa sailors are tired but fine after getting lost while snowboarding Sunday and spending the night in the Hakkoda mountains.
The sailors, who are assigned to the U.S. Navy Information Operations Command, were found around 9 a.m. Monday after they walked onto a mountain road, said NIOC commanding officer, Cmdr. Donald P. Darnell Jr.
Their condition is “excellent,” Darnell said. “They have some superficial frostbite but it’s very temporary.”
The two, whose names were not released, were snowboarding in-bounds at Hakkoda Ski Resort west of Misawa on the resort’s opening weekend, Darnell said.
“They got off the trail — either it was the newness of the snow or marking of the trail — and became confused,” Darnell said.
The sailors had a cell phone and called a friend from the base around 4:15 p.m. saying that they were lost, according to the Mainichi Shimbun. The newspaper reported that the Aomori Prefectural police contacted the ski resort’s patrol, which began searching the area but could not find the sailors Sunday night.
Darnell said Japanese-led search-and-rescue teams stopped searching at 6:23 p.m. Sunday and resumed the search at 7:30 a.m. Monday. Two teams with about 50 people searched the main slopes on skis and out-of-bounds areas on snowshoes, Darnell said.
After the search-and-rescue team stopped for the evening, a team of NIOC Misawa sailors in two vehicles kept in contact with the lost servicemembers via cell phone and continued to search, Darnell said.
“We had vehicles out all evening,” he said. “We had sirens and big spotlights. They were shined up into the mountains into what we thought were logical egress points.”
Darnell said the Navy team had intermittent cell phone contact with the sailors until their phone battery died about 1:30 a.m. Monday.
The two stayed up all night, continually moving, as temperatures dipped to about minus-5 degrees Celsius (about 23 degrees Fahrenheit), Darnell said.
“Most of the valleys lead toward the road. They actually came out to the road itself,” he said.
A Navy independent duty corpsman, in the Hakkodas with the Navy support team looking for the sailors, assisted the men on the mountain. They were later examined at the base hospital and sent home to rest, Darnell said.
“They were very well-trained and very well-outfitted, which is what got them through it,” he said.