On A Mission

Sometimes, when police are looking for someone who’s gone missing, they call in Search Team 5-1.

The Johnstown-based team, made up of volunteers, has been involved in numerous searches over the years.

Most recently, it helped search for an Australian hiker who had disappeared in the Ray Brook, Essex County, area early this month. Shortly before that, on Christmas Day, team members searched for an 89-year-old man who went missing near Greece, Monroe County.

The body of the Australian later was found by searchers from another team. The search for the elderly man required eight team members to make a four-hour trip to Greece on Christmas. The man, who had dementia, eventually was found deceased on the back porch of a neighboring house by a caretaker.

The search team often is called in when people go missing in the Adirondack Mountains or rural areas.

Search Team 5-1 President Vernon Brownell, who joined the group in the early 2000s, said the group has a reputation for being able to conduct a lot of grid searches.

In 1984, the state passed legislation that gave Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers the authority to establish search and rescue missions.

Brownell said the state set up a basic course for volunteers. In 1986, a Boy Scout Explorer Post, headed by John Washburn from the Broadalbin area, took the course. The group was called Post 51. This new team was the first team in Region 5, leading to the group’s name, Search Team 5-1.

Team 5-1 has helped DEC rangers in dozens of searches.

The team serves Fulton, Montgomery, Schoharie, Schenectady, Saratoga and Hamilton counties, as well as other areas as needed. The team has worked side by side with other teams through the New York State Federation of Search & Rescue.

The team has around 100 members, and 35 of them are available for statewide searches.

Last year, the team helped in the search for a body involved in a plane crash in Ephratah.

In Garoga, a small plane exploded in midair, killing Frank Amerosa, his wife, Evelyn Amerosa, and the pilot, John Campbell. Evelyn Amerosa and Campbell were found immediately, but Frank Amerosa was not found for several weeks.

Brownell said the search for Amerosa was different than most. It required the crews to search the tree line and the ground.

Eventually, Amerosa’s body was found behind an ice cream shop in Ephratah.

Stan Vanovic, training officer and field officer for 5-1, said he joined after a lifelong interest in the outdoors. Vanovik said the program is interesting.

“I just like being in the wilderness,” Vanovic said.

Vanovic and Brownell said they enjoy being able to help people.

“I think it is mainly a civic-mindedness to it,” Brownell said. ” It gives me a feeling of fulfillment.”

Vanovic said even if a case has a sad ending, the search is important. Finding the body of a person who has died can help bring answers.

“It is a great help to the families,” Vanovic said. “Brings closure.”

Sometimes, search team members aren’t the ones to find the missing person when on a search.

Hunters may find deceased people, or the missing subjects may walk out of the wilderness.

“You never know what the outcome is going to be or when it is going be,” Brownell said.

Search Team 5-1 has contributed its time and experience to various community projects, such as helping the Boy Scouts in a disaster preparedness training drill, and has been asked to teach map and compass classes to Boy Scouts, Adirondack hiking chapters and volunteer firefighters.

All members are trained, and many of the members have experience being in the wilderness.

Vanovic said the extensive training process is important.

“Where we go, if you don’t know what you are doing, we have to do another search for that guy,” Vanovic said.

The search team welcomes volunteers. To volunteer, call Brownell at 882-9938 for spring training.

Arthur Cleveland can be reached at acleveland@leaderherald.com.