Rescue calls for hikers getting stranded while on hikes are going up, according to the King County Sheriff’s Office.
First responders say as more people move to the area, hikers who don't do the proper research and bring necessary supplies are getting stranded, then needing to be rescued.
“The problem we’re finding is, people will see something on social media and they see such a beautiful background or beautiful waterfall. And they don’t pack anything except for their flip-flops and backpack with not much in it,” said Sgt. Ryan Abbott, of the King County Sheriff’s Office. “Those are the same people who call us.”
A typical helicopter rescue costs around $6,000-$7,000 per rescue.
In busy summer months, King County’s helicopters can go on three or four rescue missions each week.
But needing help can and does happen even with experienced hikers.
Friends of David James and Buster Cabe all say the men are skilled outdoorsmen. The two were missing for nearly a week before getting rescued Thursday.
The King County crew with pilot Guy Herndon and tactical flight officer Alex Paul were assisting Snohomish County in the search Thursday when Paul spotted one of the missing hikers.
The King County rescue helicopters have special equipment like an HD camera that can read a license plate from 2,000 feet up in the air.
It also has thermal imaging technology.
But Paul said it was tough to rely on the technology Thursday.
“The cameras didn't work too well because they can't get that deep in through the trees,” he said.
He said they were flying low and just relying on their eyes.
“As the helicopter came around one of the bends, I saw someone standing on the bank of the river waving at us,” Paul said. “He kept laying down on the bank because obviously he's extremely tired."
“At one point his wave turned into 'Whew, thank goodness,'” Paul said. Snohomish County crews hoisted up James, and ground crews found Cabe about an hour later.
Both men live in Snohomish County, but King County said 97% of its rescue operations involve King County residents.
The Sheriff’s Office said while there’s been a spike in rescue operations, there has been no increase in staff.
“The Air Support Unit assists when we are available and the mission is dire and may include serious injury or death. A vast majority of our helicopter rescues, regardless of the county the mission is conducted in, are King County residents.
"We have four pilots and no full-time tactical flight officers, so we are somewhat limited on our availability. Having this few pilots and TFOs is unheard of in a region this populated and with the number of SAR missions King County has. We operate on a shoe string,” the air support unit said in an email.
Abbott says each mission also comes with risks.
“It can put them in danger just because of how technical rescues can be,” Abbott said.
First responders are asking you to do your research and be prepared before going on a hike.
If you're planning a Labor Day weekend hike, park officials stress that you should bring what they call the "10 Plus Essentials."
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