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Sproule search provided valuable lessons for SAR
With more than 16 million square metres of Cumberland searched, 97 searchers and 137 community volunteers, the president of the Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue said he and his team will be reviewing and assessing their work in the search for Jamie Sproule.
The 65-year-old Cumberland resident was discovered, unconscious, at a cairn, approximately 500 metres above Comox Lake Road last Tuesday, within a half kilometre of his home.
Sproule, who suffers from Parkinson’s and dementia, went for a walk May 22 and did not return.
“A search certainly doesn’t end when the subject is located and we’re certainly thrilled that it was a happy ending for Jamie and the family, but we have long-term processes yet to undergo,” explained Paul Berry. “All of the search areas were determined based upon the subject’s behaviour, what we learned through our interview with family, people who know him and what they might predict his behaviour to be.”
Berry noted last week a quick formal review by the search managers was done, along with a critical incident stress debrief for the team.
“There’s a lot of emotion involved in small communities like this and a tight-knit search team really wanting to do the very best they can do and assist the family. (There’s) a sense of defeat that one, the search was suspended while we looked for further information, and two, that he wasn’t located (during the official search).”
Berry noted the team will go through further reviews and meet with other agencies such as the RCMP to examine decision points. He added they will also conduct a provincial-level review.
“We will have an outside facilitator come and take a look at the chronology of the search, the decisions that were made to try and look at best practices; what worked really well, and what lessons can be learned and applied in a future search,” he said.
“We’re hoping this will become normal practice. It’s certainly a best practice that search teams should be involved in, and this team is very open to being reflective and looking at what works and what doesn’t.”
During the formal search, the team came within 50 metres of where Sproule was located, Berry explained, and added the search was based on data from thousands of searches.
For Sproule, trying to categorize him, Berry noted their understanding was that his dementia was very mild and early onset. He added Parkinson’s too can be categorized in the dementia category for searching.
“It defines the type of searching that we should do, coupled with the behaviour and what we’re told about him.
“So all of that was done and those areas where he was ultimately found was determined to be fairly low probability,” he said.
“Because he could not shout out and because of the density of the bush he was not located until family completed a grid search in this area that was virtually shoulder to shoulder.”
Friends and family continued looking, after the official search was suspended. Berry added even Sproule’s family said they had no belief he could possibly be where he was found because of the density and steepness of the terrain, and credits the tenacity of their grid search of that area.
“To suspend a search, it’s not an easy decision ever to do that. Sure there’s frustration and there’s doubt … but the team worked based on the information that they had. The team will reflect, and we will ensure in future we apply everything that we learned from this one to do better next time.”