Search and rescue people never charge for their time or services, but it is important to reimburse them for their time and travel. Otherwise they take it out of their own pocket. —David Francis
DUGWAY — Scent-tracking horses and dogs are part of the effort of a private search and rescue foundation from Minnesota to look for a soldier missing in Utah for almost a year.
Army Spc. Joseph Bushling, stationed at Dugway Proving Ground, was last heard from May 8, 2011, when he left a phone message with another soldier saying he had run out of gas while driving in the desert, was freezing cold and needed help.
After six days of searching, Tooele County search and rescue volunteers found the car Bushling was driving in a ravine 65 miles south of Dugway. But there has been no trace of the soldier.
Search efforts for Bushling diminished as time grew long and hope of finding him alive grew short. But parents Kevin and Lisa Bushling, who live in Russellville, Ark., continue to find the resources and determination to keep going.
A search planned for March 24-25 is being coordinated by the Minnesota-based Jon Francis Foundation, named for a hiker whose body was found by searchers in the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho a year after he summited Grand Mogul but did not return.
Jon's father, David Francis, has used his experience and the foundation to help others who are searching for missing loved ones.
David Francis said the next Utah search is being led by two professional search managers and will include 18 trained dogs and their handlers, 70 horseback riders and others on all-terrain vehicles.
Search manager Jeff Hasse said from his home in Minnesota Friday that horses trained in scent tracking are a relatively new addition to search efforts. "Horses are very aware of what's unusual in the environment," he said.
The horses can pick up scents circulating too high above the ground for dogs to pick them up. The dogs, on the other hand, will be particularly useful searching the many caves in the area where Bushling went missing.
Lt. Herman Herrera, special operations director for the Tooele County Sheriff's Office, said he has given the incoming search group GPS map information from the five searches the county has participated in. "They sent us their safety plan and project plan. We've had a chance to review it and everything's good to go."
All involved know they're now looking for a body, not a living person. "He could be in the same area we've searched four times, but maybe they'll find him on the fifth time," Herrera said.
The foundation steps in to help raise money and find expert help.
"Search and rescue people never charge for their time or services, but it is important to reimburse them for their time and travel. Otherwise they take it out of their own pocket," Francis said. The foundation is taking donations through its website, jonfrancis.org, hoping to raise another $3,000.
The missing soldier's parents plan to be in Utah for the upcoming search. Kevin Bushling said he has been selling personal belongings to help cover expenses related to searches and travel to Utah.
"Right now material things just don't have a meaning to me," he said on Friday. "Some of the things I've sold I was planning on handing to my grandchildren, but I'm not going to have any, so what's the point of keeping them?"
"We cannot abandon the search for our son. We desperately need to find Joe, understand what happened to him and lay him to rest," Kevin Bushling said.