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Five Simple Steps if Lost

| October 14, 2020
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From time to time, we like to share posts from others.  CochranMickels is honored that Mr. Guy J. Sagi allowed us to publish this amazing photo and article on our blog.  As hunting season approaches, this is an excellent read for all of us who will be venturing into the outdoors.  Mr. Sagi is a world renowned photographer and author.  Please check out his website at  You won't be disappointed!!

It was love of the outdoors that fueled my search & rescue work in Arizona. Oddly, lessons learned from that decade have made positive contributions to my life and even financial planning. Without knowing it I laid out something of an overall strategy in my first published article, which detailed an acronym I think it is worthwhile for hikers should they get lost—RESCUE.

Today, of course, dialing 911 on their cell phone is step one. They were scarce when I was wearing boots out monthly. We were answering more than 100 calls a year and even now there are places without service. The potentially lifesaving information works in some of life’s other situations, too. Here’s a gently modified version, for anyone who enjoys the out of doors.


R—Relax and take a deep breath. You’re not the first person who’s gotten lost and you, too, will survive. Panic kills.

E—Elevate your thoughts and, if safe to do so, your position. Negative attitudes filled with gloom-and-doom are paralyzing. Get to the top of a nearby hill to get a good look around, unless it’s risky to do so or any distance away. You may discover a safe route out and, at the very least, become more visible to searchers. In regular life this step is getting a glimpse of the topography around any big decision—reading and seeking expert advice.

S—Sit down and inventory your situation and resources. The odds are extremely good it’s not as desperate as you think and you have more available than you think, most of it overlooked and underused.

C—Choose your course of action in a cold and calculating manner. Don’t alter that plan it unless significant changes in the situation demand it.  

U—Utilize everything and everything at your disposal. When you’re trying to survive and thrive, that pocketknife can pull double-duty as a signal mirror and a backpack serves as a welcome bivvy bag. Can’t convince branches to stay put on your lean to? Pull a bootlace for the night and tie it up there. You have more resources than you think.  

E—Economize if necessary. Making it through any situation—or reaching an ultimate goal—can mean the temporary discomfort of belt tightening.

If the outdoors are part of your lifestyle, and you love to see what’s just over that next ridge, you’re going to get lost. Odds are good it’ll be simply a brief inability to recognize which trail you took, but it’ll come, sooner or later. Carry a compass or GPS, know how to use it to get your bearings and just because things are unfamiliar on the horizon, it’s not a valid excuse to stop exploring.  

Success by the Numbers

My article failed didn’t stop our volume of searches, unfortunately, but a mathematical approach designed by a professor at the University of Arizona helped save those who did get lost—in some tough situations. I keep it in mind when it comes to mission focus and calculated risk.

It starts with the painful reality that a searcher may never see the person they’re looking for in dense vegetation or at night, especially if the victim is unconscious. Even helicopters, depending on conditions and crew experience/fatigue, overlook things below. Add weather, terrain, age, condition, color of clothing and countless other variables and it’s no easy task to determine which search style optimizes the chances of success.  

To remove the guesswork, the kindly professor convinced the Air Force to donate hours of flight time in an airborne probability of detection study. Volunteers were stationed the ground while the helicopter flew patterns overhead looking for them.

On some days the people below were told to wave and on others to remain motionless. Clothing color was changed to determine which was optimal and different areas were used to determine success rates in varying terrain. It was months of work.

The mathematician pressed on, studying results from similar “practices” using search teams on horseback, on foot and in/on vehicles. It took more than a year, but in the end he produced a program in which topography, weather, daylight, foliage density, age of the person lost, days missing, clothing and other variables were entered.

The computer then calculated the optimal search pattern and determined the best type of teams suited for the job. The numbers drilled right down to the spacing of searchers if conditions demanded a grid search. It was cutting-edge stuff. I have no doubt people are alive today because of that system, and its ability to focus manpower properly.

Yes, there were places lost hikers routinely gravitated to on certain trails. Usually dispatching a quick hasty team was successful in those cases, but by and large we followed the program’s findings. It worked in nearly every case. And we only changed our approach when the program, which has the luxury of remaining icy cold, calm and calculating in a tense situation, indicated it was time to change. 

It convinced me choosing a course of action—one based on solid information and past performance— maximizes the chances of success and minimizes risk. Even in the outdoors the approach works and I’m confident the families we reunited with loved ones are glad we stayed the course, despite some seemingly tough challenges.

Guy J. Sagi’s lifelong enthusiasm for everything outdoors began at a young age and was fully annealed after a dozen years of Search & Rescue work. He’s the author of two fishing books, another on hunting and his latest is a children’s picture book, “The Year Santa Came Back.” He worked for a decade in the National Rifle Association’s publications division, spent another 10 with Safari Club International and you can see more of his award-winning work at

Mike Mickels is President of CochranMickels Retirement Specialists and an avid sporting clay competitor. CochranMickels Retirement Specialists provides personalized planning and investment services to individuals approaching and in retirement. They also provide retirement and benefits training to Federal employees. Securities offered through Registered Representatives of Cambridge Investment Research, Inc., a broker-dealer, member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, Inc, a Registered Investment Advisor. CochranMickels and Cambridge are not affiliated.

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