- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - With hunting season about to head into full swing, chances are that a hunter or two could get lost within the 13,600 acres of Moraine State Park open to hunting, or darkness might overtake a hiker.

“There’s always that risk when you’re enjoying the outdoors that something could happen to prevent you from getting back,” said park ranger Dustin Drew.

Along with park rangers and emergency personnel, park officials have counted on the help of Allegheny Mountain Rescue Group, a 40-member volunteer organization made up of responders mainly from Butler, Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties.

Established in 1985, Allegheny Rescue offers its services in southwestern Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Maryland. The group is the only team in Pennsylvania accredited by the Mountain Rescue Organization and is certified as a Quick Response Service through the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

“I think the common overriding theme among all members is that we’re wanting to help people,” said Chris Ruch, commander of the organization. “We know that if something happens to one of us, someone is coming out and helping us and looking for us.”

The group, based in Allegheny County, conducted canine training sessions at Moraine from Oct. 3 to Oct. 5. The group is familiar with the park, and it offered plenty of locations for water training on Lake Arthur and wilderness searches.

“They’ve assisted us numerous times,” Drew said. “Volunteer search and rescue groups are crucial to our search operations, and they utilize the park for training. They have some great operating procedures in place, and they’re very organized. They work well with us to put on a good search.”

In many cases of missing children, the search ends within minutes, finding the child close by. But on wider searches, rangers have to call local fire departments and other emergency personnel, along with the rescue group, for help. Bigger searches could require at least 50 to 100 volunteers.

The rescue group has helped three times at Moraine within the past year, Drew said, including a search for Jeffrey Alborn, 49, of New Castle, who disappeared from a bridge off Route 422 last November. His body was found in Slippery Rock Creek, downstream of the bridge.

Allegheny Mountain, a non-profit group with an annual budget of about $10,000, depends on donations, Ruch said, though many group members pay costs - including that for their canine partners - out of their own pockets. Many are law enforcement or emergency medical personnel, but others are simply those who enjoy the outdoors, Ruch said.

More than 50 percent of the group’s calls are for searches for those who are autistic or diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Ruch said. The group also searches for crime victims, though the group will not help law enforcement in the search for an accused criminal.

The group conducts cave rescues and searches for lost hunters and hikers. The group assisted in the Oct. 2 search for a Westmoreland County man pilot killed when his ultralight helicopter crashed in a ravine near the Rostraver Airport.

Allegheny Mountain averages three or four searches a month, Ruch said, and about double that for activations when searches ended before they responded or were put on standby.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1DbIb3L

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Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, https://pghtrib.com

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