Don’t turn a difficult situation into a survival situation

Don’t turn a difficult situation into a survival situation

Newspapers and social media are abuzz with the news of a 72-year-old woman (Ann Charon Rodgers) and her dog (Queenie) surviving in the Gila County wilderness for nine days before being rescued by the Arizona Department of Public Safety on Saturday (April 9th, 2016).

Let us take a moment to see how these extraordinary turn of events transpired in the incredible survival story.

The turn of events

  1. Rodgers and her dog set out March 31, 2016, on a trip to Phoenix from Tucson.
  2. She was planning to arrive in Phoenix to celebrate her birthday, which was on April 4.
  3. Rodgers told a White Mountain Apache Tribe Game and Fish officer that she was heading toward Show Low when she ran out of gas.
  4. Rodgers saw an opportunity to refuel at a Cibecue exit, but she became lost and began her nine-day ordeal.
  5. For the next week and a half, Rodgers and her dog were stranded on a distant stretch of backcountry road.
  6. Her vehicle was found on April 3 (fourth day). Two separate DPS Ranger helicopters conducted an aerial search of the remote location but were unsuccessful at finding her.
  7. Tribal game and fish agency began looking for Rodgers on April 4.
  8. On April 9, a White River Tribal Game and Fish officer found Rodgers' dog walking out of the Canyon Creek area.
  9. DPS Air Rescue Unit began another aerial search on the same day. This time, they saw “HELP” spelled out in sticks and stones across the canyon floor. A handwritten message was found underneath one of the rocks. The note, dated April 3, was written by Rodgers, saying that she was out of food and water and was heading down the canyon.
  10. Shortly after that at approximately 5:45 p.m, the crew spotted a signal fire and found Rodgers in the Canyon Creek Area.
An map overview of the area with the car route.

An map overview of the area with the car route.

I had a fire lighter with me. I had a Nutella jar with me, which became my water vessel
— Ann Charon Rodgers

Rodgers ended up surviving on vegetation and pond water, building campfires at night.

Difficult questions

As the media gushes its euphoric rejoice at this extraordinary survival saga, no one seems to be asking one pertinent question

What set of mistakes transformed this relatively mundane car breakdown into a survival situation?

Till the time, someone raises this question and introspects this series of events in far more detail we believe this is a classic case of 'not see the forest for the trees’. This lack of introspection, makes us wonder if this is a deliberate pandering to political correctness (gender and age) by an ingratiated and sycophantic media.

Rule of threes. You can survive 3 minutes without breathing (drowning, asphyxiation), 3 hours without shelter in an extreme environment (exposure), 3 days without water (dehydration), 3 weeks without food (starvation)

Rodgers claims that she took a survival course and studied techniques for years. Nevertheless, we are surprised that her survival course missed these basics of a survival situation -

Mistake #1 - Inform someone responsible about your travel plans before heading out.

When you keep someone informed, that person can alert the authorities if you fail to make your time rendezvous. If Rodgers had let people know of her plans, a rescue operation could have been launched much earlier and with far greater accuracy.

Mistake #2 - If you are lost, stay with your vehicle and let the rescuers find you. Don't wander off.

A vehicle is an extraordinary source of tools, a shelter at night and something which is more visible and thus easier for authorities to find. For example, the headliner in a car can be cannibalised for a blanket, the rear view mirror can be used as a signalling mirror, car tyres can be burnt to make a sooty signal fire and the hubcaps can be used to create a solar still for water. Remember (as we pointed out in one of our articles) your brain is the best survival tool you can use in any situation. If Rodgers had stayed with her vehicle she would have been found much earlier (4th April) instead of five days later.

Rodgers spelt out 'HELP' with sticks and stones

Rodgers spelt out 'HELP' with sticks and stones

Conclusion

But any stupidity leading to the situation is one thing, the subsequent survival is another. We can appreciate the survival.
— Nick-H, indiamike.com

For some, it may seem that we are belittling Rodger’s extraordinary survival story. That is absolutely untrue. Her ability to survive nine days in the wild is “very rare, statistically abnormal and freakish”. Nevertheless, we also believe that with the presence of mind and due judgement this survival situation could have been avoided in the first place. Rodger’s survival needs to be celebrated yet it needs to be understood in the correct context to make it relevant. 


There are some hard lessons for trekkers in this survival tale.

  1. Learn and practice basic survival skills. We recommend getting a copy of ‘The Survival Handbook’ by Colin Towell. Available on Amazon India.
  2. If you plan to trek in the mountains invest in a survival / basic mountaineering training course. A government run basic mountaineering course is cheap and you learn skills that may save your life.
  3. The adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ holds true for every survival situation. Use the most important survival tool you have i.e. your brain to prevent a difficult situation from turning into a survival situation.
This photo was taken, Saturday, April 9, 2016, and provided by Arizona Department of Public Safety shows an ambulance taking Ann Rodgers, 72, to safety after she was lost in the forest for nine days.

This photo was taken, Saturday, April 9, 2016, and provided by Arizona Department of Public Safety shows an ambulance taking Ann Rodgers, 72, to safety after she was lost in the forest for nine days.

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