From: Paul Saffo
Date: 2016 Jun 2, 09:20 -0700
I teach wilderness navigation to SAR teams and am a member of a Sheriff's SAR team here in Calif. I also have extensive training/experience as a search manager. I have never been to that part of Maine, but note that the area is used for Navy SERE training. I've spent time on other SERE bases, so expect that it is extremely rugged with dense foliage. Based on the photos I've seen, it looks like an area where one could get 20 ft off-trail and become completely disoriented. From a hiker's perspective, one could become utterly lost in a matter of minutes. Esp when on a heavily-traveled route like the Appalachian Trail, the experience would be like going from an interstate highway to a 4-wheel drive track in a matter of feet...
There are a few simple rules to follow when lost, but unfortunately, few hikers learn them. Your observation about stopping and staying in one place is rule #1. This because absent a compass and the skills to use it, lost hikers inevitably go in circles, which only increases disorientation. I could add more, but there is ample literature on the topic on-line.
From the searcher's perspective, finding a lost person involves a combination of bayesian, lost person behavior, the right mix of sensor platforms (ground-pounders, air-scent/trailing dogs, airborne sensors, etc) -- and luck. Absent a known direction of travel, the Search Area grows exponentially ( think calculating the area of a circle), so the searchers had a very large area to cover in terrain where they could have passed within feet of an unresponsive subject and never see them. I have run searches here in Calif where we had as many as 150 trained searchers in the field at one time, and it is unnerving to discover that such a large resource is inadequate even in fairly confined areas. In this case, there was no clear LKP/PLS (Last Known Point/Point last Seen), which meant that the Search Area was extensive even before the first searcher stepped into the field. And I expect that the searchers came heartbreakingly close to finding her on multiple occasions.
Because of the circumstances and press attention, this case is now going to be studied carefully. I will share any AARs that come to my attention.