DNREC sergeant: Teamwork helped save missing boy in Eagles Nest Wildlife Area


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A 13-year-old boy was found safe Sunday after being separated from his family at the Eagles Nest Wildlife Area Sandom Tract near Townsend. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

TOWNSEND — Rescuers were relieved and thrilled by the sight of a missing 13-year-old boy standing in waist-deep water in Blackbird Creek on Sunday.

So was his family.

A possible tragedy was averted when several law enforcement and first responder units teamed to find the youth.

He had became separated from his family while visiting the Eagles Nest Wildlife Area late in the morning.

According to the DNREC’s Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police spokesman Sgt. John McDerby, the teen was seen waving a piece of cloth as a Delaware State Police helicopter searching for him hovered overhead at around noon.

“It appears that he saw the helicopter first and might have traveled into the water in order to be more visible,” Sgt. McDerby said of the teenager.

The helicopter stayed in position while radioing to search party personnel on the ground. A Fish & Wildlife officer about 200 yards away located the youth and walked him out of the wooded area, officials said.

Thus ended a 30-minute search by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the Delaware State Police. They were assisted by a state park ranger, the Townsend Fire Department and New Castle County paramedics, according to Sgt. McDerby.

Police said the youth was taken to Christiana Medical Center in Newark for medical evaluation. He was treated for minor hypothermia.

The boy’s family initially had searched in vain for about 90 minutes before calling 911 for help, Sgt. McDerby said.

The teen was looking for shed deer antlers at the time he became lost in the Sandom Tract of the 130-acre wildlife area at approximately 10 a.m.

“They walked, yelled and whistled for one-and-a-half hours trying to find him,” Sgt. McDerby said.

DNREC quickly mobilized with its emergency-search partners. Officials established a command post at a weigh station in the area of U.S. 13 and Eagles Landing Road.

As an officer met with the family to get information on the youth and his last known whereabouts, other responders moved to area access points to establish a perimeter and the State Police Aviation Unit went airborne.

Sgt. McDerby credited Delaware’s closely connected law enforcement and first responder network for quickly summoning forces for a group effort that was rewarded with a rescue.

He said from the moment dispatchers received the 911 call, familiarity played a large role in teaming up.

“When it comes to public safety, we’re a small state that often works side by side in Delaware,” said Sgt. McDerby.

He noted that while Fish & Wildlife is rarely the lead agency in a rescue mission, it often assists others when searches of waterways, woodlands and nature areas are needed.

“If our officers are in the area of a call, they will be there to help,” he said.

To avoid a future calamity, Sgt. McDerby suggested that wildlife area visitors take precautions when trekking into spots with no established trails.

He advised investing a dollar or two in whistles for just such an emergency.

Perhaps spend a little more money for a hand-held GPS unit.

Or mark a trail when leaving a vehicle to walk in the great outdoors.

He also said maps are available online to help people familiarize themselves with nature areas.

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