On Nov. 13, I drove three-plus hours to Medford to participate in the search for Diane Esty, who had been missing since Oct. 31. Luckily for me I have family who live in Brewer and was able to go up Saturday evening, after participating in a training event with the Maine Forest Service earlier that day.
When I arrived at 7 p.m., the command post at the Medford Town Hall was already a hub of activity. It was inspiring to see a large number of searchers turn out.
I don’t have exact numbers but believe there were at least 10 teams from Maine Search and Rescue Dogs and at least a pair from Maine Mounted Search and Rescue — they always deploy as pairs. There also were 50-plus volunteer ground searchers and many wardens. I saw members from Wilderness Rescue Team, Mahoosuc Mountain Search and Rescue, Lincoln Search and Rescue, Mount Desert Island Search and Rescue, Mercer CERRT/SAR, Pine Tree Search and Rescue, Dirigo Search and Rescue and Unity College Search and Rescue. There possibly were others I did not see.
Our team consisted of a Maine Game Warden, myself and several members from Unity College Search and Rescue, or UCSAR. We deployed to our first search area with the warden acting as team leader and me anchoring the other end of the grid search team and running a second GPS track. The area was mixed woods, with several camps and other various buildings scattered through it. The going was pretty easy by search standards, and the probability of detection was pretty high. After making several sweeps through the area, we had only a small pie-shaped piece that had not been covered. The warden sent the UCSAR group back to the command post while the two of us finished off the pie.
After finishing the pie and stopping to talk to a landowner who came out to see what we were up to, we headed back to the command post for a quick break before getting our next assignment. Generally, this means sitting in my truck and drinking coffee from a thermos, if I was able to bring one, or water from a Nalgene bottle and eating whatever snacks I brought. This, however, was Medford, Maine.
When we returned to the command post we were ushered inside by several “little old ladies.” Inside laid out on plastic tables were several large crock pots full of stew, chili, soup, etc. There were also platters of meats and cheese and bread to make sandwiches and coolers of cold drinks and pots of hot coffee. When we deploy for a search we are expected to be self-sufficient for up to 48 hours. I will generally have a small backpacking stove or MREs and snacks, breakfasts and dinners for a couple of days. Gladly I did not need to break into my hoard.
It is so heartwarming to see the community come together to support our efforts and do what they can to help. It certainly boosts morale and makes going out on our second search area much easier. I think I can safely speak for everyone present that those folks who turned out to support our efforts are greatly appreciated.
We deployed to our second assigned grid, which took a little work finding, but working with the map provided, the maps in our GPS and a little gut instinct we found the corner of our grid and went to work. This area bordered a logging road. On the first pass, I was “just off the road,” which translates to in the raspberry bushes. The rest of the area had been cut several years before and included a brook through the middle that required a bit of creativity to get around and keep our feet dry. With daylight fading we finished the block and headed back to the command post.
We were again greeted with a feast laid out by the locals. It is gratifying to see the locals come out and be there to support the relatives of the missing person and the search teams. I have been on many searches. Generally with “big” searches a church group or some other group will spearhead taking care of the volunteer searchers, most of whom have driven several hours to be there.
Unfortunately, Diane has not yet been found. We never give up. We will keep looking, and hopefully more information will come in. If anyone has any information they can contact the Maine Warden Service or Maine State Police.
For more information, please check out these resources:
Bryan Courtois is a hiker and camper who is an active registered Maine Guide, head of Pine Tree Search and Rescue, a volunteer search and rescue responder and the statewide education director and a member of the board of directors for Maine Association Search and Rescue.