When the storm hits and they know migrants are out in it, the search-and-rescue team stages its four-wheel-drive command bus "somewhere up around Sunrise Highway, up on top of Interstate 8," Jones says, "kind of the heart of our threat area. That way we can rapidly deploy east and west depending on where we need to be. Because we are already staged out here, when we get a location that somebody is in jeopardy out there, we are right there and we jump right on it."
Jones, medium-sized, fit and muscular with a blond flattop haircut, pulls over on a turnout about ten miles north of Interstate 8. To the south, the land drops steeply away into a pine-filled canyon 1000 feet below. "This is one of the areas where we had a big search," he recalls, "in the winter season of 2000. We had a group of five or six out in a storm, and a snow-plow driver was coming down the road, and a couple of them flagged him down, and he called us. We showed up and they told us they had left a couple of females and a male south. We sent some men down to them. One of them we actually managed to get out, but she had a core temperature of around 84 degrees. A lot of times when their core temperature is down to that point for any length of time, they don't make it to the hospital, or if they do, a lot of things start shutting down on them. But we managed to get her out. The other two unfortunately were deceased by the time we got to them."
"When it snows up here," Jones continues, as he drives back down Sunrise Highway toward I-8, "it is usually just below freezing or just above freezing. So the snow is really wet and sticky, and when it hits you it doesn't brush off. It sticks and melts and then you are wet. And once you are wet, you are done."
In most situations when the search-and-rescue team is deployed, endangered migrants are rescued and carried out by search parties, usually four or five, of volunteer Border Patrol agents on foot. The volunteer agents are all emergency medical technicians and are certified in basic search-and-rescue techniques. And each of them is a specialist in one aspect of search and rescue, such as rope work, tracking, or fast-water rescue. If visibility permits, the injured and near-frozen are lifted out by the Border Patrol's helicopter.
On the way back down the mountain on Interstate 8, Jones recounts another dramatic rescue effort that took place on April 2, 1999. A late-season snow storm dumped a foot and a half of snow on surprised migrants trekking north in and around Nelson Canyon, a couple of miles east of the junction of Interstate 8 and Highway 79. Border Patrol, Sheriff, and Coast Guard helicopters took part in a massive rescue mission. "Eight people died that day," Jones recalls, "but I consider it a successful mission because we saved over 50 people."