At MetaFilter the story linked was How 1,600 People Went Missing from Our Public Lands Without a Trace — That lead to an Outside story centered on the case of 18-year-old Joe Keller who vanished from a dude ranch in Colorado’s Rio Grande National Forest.
The MetaFilter page is worth a look for the comments. The Outside story is rather long but contains a lot of information.
“The first 24 hours are key,” says Robert Koester, a.k.a. Professor Rescue, author of the search and rescue guidebook Lost Person Behavior. Koester was consulted on the Keller case and noted that, like most missing runners, Joe wasn’t dressed for a night outside.
There was nothing to go on. In that first week, the search engaged about 15 dogs and 200 people on foot, horseback, and ATV. An infrared-equipped airplane from the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control flew over the area. Collin’s brother Tanner set up a GoFundMe site that paid for a helicopter to search for five hours, and a volunteer flew his fixed-wing aircraft in the canyon multiple times. A guy with a drone buzzed the steep embankments along Highway 17, the closest paved road, and the rock formation Faith, which has a cross on top. A $10,000 reward was posted for information. How far could a shirtless kid in running shoes get?
Joe Keller had just joined the foggy stratum of the hundreds or maybe thousands of people who’ve gone missing on our federal public lands. Thing is, nobody knows how many.
It’s hard to put your hunches and suspicions to rest. We’ll never know for certain what happened to Joe Keller. We’ll know even less about what happened to a lot of other people missing in the wild.
One question I had early on was, Are you better or worse off going missing in a national forest than from a Walmart parking lot? I thought I knew the answer. You can see an aerial view of my firewood pile from space on your smartphone. I thought that in the wild, someone would send in the National Guard, the Army Rangers, the A-Team, and that they wouldn’t rest until they found you. Now I’m not so sure.
In Joe’s case, it looks like he was injured in a fall. Even being only a short ways from the ranch, finding him was extremely difficult. It may be low odds of getting lost and the idea of something happening on only a short walk near the campsite seems not worth considering. What is worth considering is that things happen, the wilderness is indeed wild even very close to campgrounds and civilization, and the risk cannot be ignored.