International rescue forum set for valley |

International rescue forum set for valley

Julie Imada-Howard/Special to the Daily
Eagle's Tim Cochrane has been the Vail Mountain Search and Rescue director for several years.

When someone is lost or injured in the backcountry, mountain search and rescue volunteers put their own lives at risk to in order to save others.

A group of local search and rescue volunteers have been working to organize an international symposium for mountain search and rescue teams from around the world. Scheduled for June, 2005, the symposium will be the first of its kind in North America, combining field-training techniques and exercises, including swift-water rescues, helicopters and search-dog operations with feedback and discussion with the world’s foremost rescue experts.

Eagle resident Tim Cochrane, longtime director of Vail Mountain Rescue, said the basics of search and rescue crosses all borders and barriers, making the symposium a rare opportunity for teams from around the world to learn from each other.

“We all have the same basic philosophy and that is to help people. It’s an opportunity to actually swap knowledge and problem-solve together on how to better respond and keep people safer,” said Cochrane.

Most rescue teams are comprised of volunteers who offer their extensive mountaineering experience during crises including avalanche rescue, lost people or other accidents. Sometimes these volunteers sacrifice their own lives to save others. It is this effort and sacrifice that inspired Cochrane to create the symposium and honor the efforts of North American and Canadian teams.

Cochrane has also been inspired by Angiolino Benelli, the father of Italian mountain rescue. In 1972, Benelli created the international silver plaque award for rescue personnel who go beyond the call of duty. Today, the award is the highest honor in the field. Every year in Pinzola, Italy, where Benelli lives, representatives from around the world honor those who have died in the line of duty and award the silver plaque.

In 2000, Cochrane nominated fellow Vail Mountain Rescue volunteer Dan Aguilar for the award. Aguilar, who specializes in avalanche rescue, was given the award for rescuing two injured Sherpas on Mount Everest in Nepal, endangering himself and sacrificing his opportunity to summit the peak.

Cochrane, Aguilar, and other members of the local team recently returned from Pinzola with a promise from Benelli to be the keynote speaker at the Vail symposium, as well as attendance confirmations from 12 international teams including the Negev Highlands SAR Israeli team, the Chinese Mountaineering Association, Parks Canada, Permio Internationale Solidarieta of Italy, the Swiss Mountain Rescue Association and the Swiss Rescue Dog Association.

In addition to 50 teams from around the U.S. and Canada, organizers also expect teams to come from Slovenia, New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan, Kyrgyzstan, Central Europe and Great Britain.

Cochrane and Aguilar said they hope the symposium will also give the public an opportunity to expand their knowledge of backcountry safety.

“We hope the public gets more education that could help them make smarter decisions when they are out in the wilderness,” said Aguilar. He added that if more people paid attention to the basic rules, including staying together as a group, bringing the right gear, and planning, there would be fewer problems and tragedies on the mountains of Colorado.

For more information about Vail Mountain Search and Rescue and about the symposium, log onto or call 328-5220.

This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.

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