Off-duty officers rescue missing man

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Off-duty Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers helped rescue a man late Tuesday afternoon on the west side of Isabella County.

The 59-year-old man from Remus in Mecosta County was reported missing earlier in the day and found in a wooded area near Halls Lake.

The man’s girlfriend told 911 dispatchers that her boyfriend had been missing for several hours after their dogs had jumped out of their truck and he followed them into the woods. Adding to her distress, the woman was concerned because her boyfriend did not have a phone with him and has had numerous past strokes and a heart condition.

Unaware of her exact location, the woman was able to describe a green gate to dispatchers. Aware of their specialized search and rescue training, Isabella County Central Dispatch contacted Michigan Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officers Mike Haas and Josh Russell.

Off-duty, Haas and Russell both were nearby at Haas’s house when they received the call. Familiar with the rural area, the officers knew the green gate the woman had described was on natural area land owned by the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy Group. 

“We knew the land described – there are numerous ice-covered beaver ponds and steep hills that could cause a lot of complications,” Haas said. “We told dispatchers it would be difficult for other agencies to navigate if they didn’t have the proper equipment.”

Having access to Haas’s search and rescue gear, they drove to the location.

“We had completed a specialized tactical person-tracking course about a year ago,” Haas said. “We were able to use these skills to begin tracking the lost man into the woods.”

Haas and Russell quickly found the man’s footprints in patches of snow, leading them through hardwood hills and thickets.

“Due to sparse snow coverage, we had to look for crushed vegetation through thick marsh areas. The man’s trail zig-zagged numerous times, going through various congested and steep areas,” Haas said. “His footprints were becoming closer together, which may indicate he was becoming tired. All of these are common behavioral signs of a lost person.”

The officers traveled about two miles through the woods, maintaining continuous radio communication with Michigan State Police troopers and dispatchers, informing them that their tracking was leading them toward a rural road on the north side of Halls Lake.

State Police troopers drove toward that road and found the man wandering west on West Broomfield Road, near Costabella Avenue.

“We were pleased at the outcome of this search. Communicating with the other agencies, utilizing our search and rescue training and being familiar with the area allowed for a timely conclusion to the search,” Haas said.

Medics evaluated the man on-scene. He was cold, but in good condition and did not require further medical treatment.

“I’m proud that COs Haas and Russell were able to use their specialized search and rescue training to quickly find this missing man,” said Chief Gary Hagler, DNR Law Enforcement Division. “This situation could have been much worse if the officers were not nearby and prepared to respond.”

Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned state peace officers who provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety and protect citizens by providing general law enforcement duties and lifesaving operations in the communities they serve.

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