Two year old Isaac Leuenberger is a savvy little guy, well versed in the outdoors, says Kimberley Search and Rescue Search Manager Wendy Heatherington, and that stood him in good stead this past Saturday night.
Isaac went missing around 7 p.m., (April 30) at Premier Lake Provincial Campground while walking with his Mom and siblings.
Family and others initially searched the area and then called police who activated Search and Rescue.
He was found about midday Sunday by one of the volunteer searchers, bringing a huge sigh of relief to family, friends and Search and Rescue teams from around the Kootenays.
Cpl. Chris Newel of the Kimberley RCMP told media that other than a few scratches, the boy was in good condition.
“We’re pretty gosh darn happy,” said KSAR member Peter Reid.
There was a huge SAR response as teams from Kimberley, Cranbrook, Invermere, Fernie, Elkford and teams as far away as Castlegar and Nelson were still arriving at Premier Lake when the boy was found.
“I wasn’t actually there when he as found,” Reid said. “Wendy and myself were out all night and had come back down to get some sleep, so we weren’t there. You always hate to leave a search for that reason, but we are just so relieved and happy.”
Reid says Isaac was found by one of the volunteers searching for the family.
“It’s incredible. As you can imagine there is a great sense of urgency when you are searching for such a little guy. We were all extremely stressed about finding him.”
“It’s an incredible feeling,” agreed Heatherington. “We are so happy and relieved. Thank goodness. It really hit home with the search teams. So many people were so worried. It was hard.”
She says that with any search there is an urgency rating for searches.
“With a little person under five, we go big really quickly. We called in as many teams and searchers as possible.”
“The survival rate for a young child is quite high – 95 per cent if you find them within 24 hours,” Reid said. “But adding difficulty to that is that even two year olds can travel quite a distance. They found him at least three kilometres from the campsite.”
The teams also searched all night, which they don’t always do.
“We searched as much as we could although there were cliff faces and areas we couldn’t search in the dark,” said Heatherington.
“You have to keep in mind a toddler will move.”
Which is exactly what young Isaac did, once he ducked into the bush while walking with his family.
“Our best guess is something distracted him,” Heatherington said. “He saw something shiny, he’s a two year old.
“He just wandered through the bush. He was on a trail a little bit, then off a little bit, then back on the trail. He slept intermittently.
“We don’t know the whole story. When he got back he told his parents he’d tell them the story later, because he was tired.
“This little boy is well versed in the outdoors, his parents are well versed. They are an outdoors family.”
Heatherington says that in addition to all the SAR teams from around the region, there were volunteer searchers from the campground as well.
“Sometimes families will help with the search but typically we ask them to stay back because they are so sad and so emotional.We have a liaison to keep in constant touch with them.”
The search is a terrifying time for the family and very emotional for the searchers as well, even though they are well trained.
“It’s hard to train for emotion,” Heatherington said. “But just two weeks ago we had a meeting and talked about the emotional toll. Search and Rescue is risky by definition. We deal with happy outcomes and also sad and emotional outcomes. We really watch our volunteers. It’s up and down. We recover people all the time and it’s not always a good outcome. It’s really hard on the volunteers, especially in a small town. Because you know everyone. When you recover a victim, you either know them, or know someone who does.”
But in this case, the best possible outcome occurred. Isaac is safely back with his family.
“We just had a brand new class graduate Ground Search and Rescue and they were in on this search. It’s such a great outcome for them. They are raring to go again.”