Malibu Search and Rescue Tops 2017 Record

Four rock climbers cross through the “Rock Pool” area of Malibu Creek State park, the site of dozens of search and rescue calls over the past few years; the pool’s appearance has changed since the recent fire and rain.

It’s been another record-breaking year for the Malibu Search and Rescue team. The group has once again topped itself, with an unprecedented response to 184 calls for help in 2018—the second record-breaking year in a row. In 2017, Malibu SAR shattered the team’s previous record for rescues with 162 calls; 2018 saw an additional jump of 22 more times the all-volunteer Los Angeles County Reserve Deputies were able to assist those in need.

Rescue calls can range from lost hikers and missing persons to cars over the sides of canyons and assisting the LACo Sheriff with law enforcement and other special details. In fact, 2018’s high call volume to MSAR is partly due to the team’s operations related to the June 22 homicide of Tristan Beaudette in Malibu Creek State Park. July was a busy month for the team with evidence searches and detail operations related to the crime—which this week led to charges filed against suspect Anthony Rauda.

Of the 184 calls in 2018, 46 were searches and 46 were rescues. Thirty-one calls were cars over the side, where the volunteer team skilled at helicopter hoist rescues and rappelling down steep cliffs was able to reach victims as far as 600 feet over the side of Malibu area canyon roads.

Another significant increase in rescue responses for MSAR happened during the destructive Woolsey Fire in November. Team members volunteered round the clock responding to rescue calls, putting out tree fires and spot fires, aiding in evacuations, assisting with looter suppression, facilitating repopulation and conducting welfare checks.

It was during Woolsey evacuations that two MSAR team members saved the life of an elderly woman who, according to team leader David Katz “clearly would have perished in the fire but for the two people from our team that chose to evacuate the Seminole Springs area.” MSAR’s Thomas Henzgen and Michael Rogers were conducting evacuations the Friday morning of the blaze and noticed it was threatening the Seminole Springs Mobile Home Park. Thinking it might catch some residents by surprise, they sounded their sirens in the neighborhood and used their public-address system. The two noticed one home with windows open and lights on inside, so they approached with a hunch a resident could still be inside. After banging on the locked door they heard a dog bark and noticed an elderly woman inside. They yelled for her to get out, but it appeared the woman did not hear all the commotion. She was deaf and didn’t know evacuations were happening. So Henzgen and Rogers broke the door open and quickly got her to safety in their rescue truck with moments to spare before the fire destroyed her home. The two men also saved the dog belonging to the 97-year-old resident.

The Woolsey Fire’s destruction also brought a noteworthy change to an area of Malibu Creek State Park that’s been a magnet for hikers and thrill seekers looking for adventures. The notorious rock pool—often the scene of MSAR rescues of amateur divers and jumpers who perhaps miss their mark—looks quite a bit different and may not be so appealing anymore. According to Katz, “that’s because the area has changed dramatically after the fire and we’re not sure it’s going to return to what it once was.” The water level has dramatically dropped due to a change in topography. 

“After the fire, it denuded a lot of the grass, trees and bushes in the park and then the rains came and pushed a bunch of silt and sand through the gorge into the rock pool, and now there is multiple feet of sand and silt that have redirected the water flow in the rock pool,” Katz described. “Also, the pressure pushed what was otherwise a natural dammed area out so now there’s more water in the creek beyond the rock pool than there is in the rock pool. You can actually walk out probably half way into the rock pool, whereas before you couldn’t walk past the water’s edge.”

The result of the fire and charred vegetation also revealed newly discovered cars that were previously hidden under brush and now visible. MSAR has since been able to check on more than a dozen vehicles that had been resting over the sides of area roads, but only recently revealed after Woolsey burned through thick groundcover that earlier had kept them from view.

MSAR’s jurisdiction is a 187-square-mile area covering the Santa Monica Mountains. It was founded 42 years ago and continues as a nonprofit comprised of volunteers. Donations to help provide rescue gear are welcome through