ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – It’s pretty easy for people to find themselves lost in the New Mexico wilderness, even minutes from a major city, and it’s happening more and more with hikers this year.
However, there is a lifeline; hundreds of volunteers across the state are waiting to help.
“Probably the best thing about living here is the mountains,” Jade Chavez told KRQE News 13. She said she’s enjoyed hiking around the state her whole life.
There are plenty of places to explore across New Mexico.
“I thought I was going to get lost today, you know, everything looks the same walking around, so you can just take a wrong turn and be stuck out here,” Chavez explained.
There has been a spike for search and rescue crews to help find lost hikers in New Mexico this year.
“You can take the month of June this year, we had a SAR mission just about every other day,” explained Bob Rodgers, Search and Rescue Resource Officer with New Mexico State Police.
New Mexico is one of the few states to have a search and rescue or ‘SAR’ program managed by a state agency, the New Mexico State Police division of the Department of Public Safety.
Statewide, there are about 1,500 search and rescue volunteers. They’re mostly called to find lost hikers.
“People from all walks of life give up their time to help others in distress,” said Bob Baker.
Baker has been a search and rescue volunteer for 12 years.
“The most rewarding part of the job actually comes after the mission when you’re able to reunite loved ones,” Baker explained.
Crews went on 90 search and rescue missions last year in New Mexico. This year, there has already been 73 search and rescue missions.
Several calls for help come from the La Luz trail. On Thursday, crews helped locate a 72-year-old woman who took a wrong turn.
However, not every mission has a happy ending. After an eight day search for missing firefighter, Token Adams, in 2013, his body was found in the Jemez. His ATV crashed during a search for a lightning sparked fire.
Last year, Audrey Kaplan was found dead near the Sandia Ski Basin. Her husband said the two were hunting for mushrooms when they split up.
Each search and rescue crew tackles the tough terrain with the same goal: to help save a life.
“The sense of relief they have on their face half the time, there’s nothing like that,” explained Rodgers.
“It’s a great sense of community, great sense of service,” Baker told KRQE News 13.
Some states make rescue victims pay for the services, but New Mexico does not. Services provided by volunteers and state agencies come at no cost to the people they’re helping.