Today (June 21, 2005) we learned that 11 year old cub scout Brennan Hawkins who had been missing from a Boy Scout camp near Salt Lake 4 days was found alive and well. It seems like a miracle. Thanks God!
We do not yet know what he did right to survive for so long (or what angel was looking out for him). We do, however, know of some things he could have done that could have prevented or shortened is ordeal.
First, Brennan should not have been wandering around by himself. Secondly. he should have stayed put once he got lost. Thirdly, it has been reported that he saw people searching for him but was scared and so did not make himself known.
I am reminded of a similar case a few years ago. Patric McCarthy was also a cub scout about the same age when he got lost in 2003. Patric was not so fortunate. Here is an excerpt from his obituary:
“He celebrated his 10th birthday Oct. 12 . Patric was a fourth-grade student at James F. Peebles Elementary School. He was a member of St. John the Evangelist Church, Pocasset, Mass. He loved his time with his mom when they would hang out and watch movies, and his grandparents, Jim and Jackie Murray. He loved fishing, playing chess, working on the computer and golfing with his Grandpa Jim. He was close to his three sisters, Kelley, Sara and Skye. His favorite activity was playing his Game Boy and PlayStation. He was active in many sports and was an excellent swimmer who would swim any chance he got. He loved playing hockey and was on the Squirt C hockey team in the Cape Cod Canal Youth Hockey League. He spent two years with Cub Scout Pack 44 Den 1 of Pocasset and played soccer and baseball. He liked playing "Army," loved dinosaurs, and his wish was to be a police officer. He was a beautiful blue-eyed boy who loved macaroni and cheese, pizza, and being himself.”
With a few changes, the above could describe many boys that I have known as a scout leader.
Patric died of hypothermia 2 miles from where he was last seen. It could be that like Brennan he too was scared and hid from searchers.
Some family members suspect foul play, but the case remains closed. I respect the family's opinion and their desire for closure, but I think it is unrealistic of them to insist that Patric would simply not run off and get lost.
As a Cub Scout leader, I know that boys sometimes do some pretty dumb things. No boy is immune from this. Fortunately, the consequences are not usually life-threatening. This is why it is paramount that we teach children what to do if they do get lost. We cannot assume that they will not make that first mistake.
I do not know what Patric and Brennan were or were not taught about survival when lost in the woods. However, I believe everyone should know the following 9 rules of survival.
9 Rules for Survival
1. Stay Together, DO NOT Separate - if with a friend or pet.
2. Stay in one place or area. DO NOT WANDER!
3. Keep Warm.
4. Find a Cozy Waiting Place, Not a Hiding Place. (You won't get in trouble for getting lost.)
5. Put Out Something Bright.
6. Look (and Sound) Bigger For Searchers. (Wait in a big open place, wave your arms and yell, if an airplane goes overhead, lie down and spread your arms out.)
7. Do Not Lie on the Bare Ground. (Except for the exception above when a plane is going over. The ground can get very cold, especially at night.)
8. Do Not Eat Anything you are not sure of.
9. Stay Away from Large Rivers and Lakes.
Please share this information with anyone and everyone you know, especially those with young children. It could save a life.
Reportedly, during his wandering, Brennan kept in mind two rules he had been taught by his parents: "stick to the trail" and "do not talk to strangers". Sticking to the trail is fine, but it would have been better if he had stayed in one place and waited for rescuers to find him. Also, while it is very common to teach kids not to talk to strangers, due to fear of abductions, clearly there are situations where this rule does not apply.
According to one expert interviewed in the news, children should also be told that if they get separated from parents at a shopping mall, they should ask for help from somebody working behind a counter, another mom with children, or a person in uniform.
The 9 rules are condensed from information provided by the United States Search and Rescue Taskforce. See http://www.ussartf.org/child_survival_.htm for more details.
The author, Greg Bonney, is the owner of Bonney Information and E-Commerce and founder of ScoutCamping.com (http://www.scoutcamping.com).