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At the end of July 2020, a Polish citizen went missing in the Biokovo massif (Croatia). Despite the activities of local services, the work of over 50 people during many days, Croatian mountain rescuers did not find the slightest trace of the missing person. Polish rescuers – the Medyk Rescue Team Foundation – were asked for help. What were our actions and how difficult and complicated was the terrain we had to work in? You will read about it in this article.
Biokovo is the second highest massif in Croatia, located in the central part of the Dalmatian coast. The massif is 36 km long and 9.5 km wide. From the sea side, Biokovo is characterized by very steep and bare limestone walls, beneath which lies a narrow coastal strip. According to local rescuers, it is “the most difficult area to search in all of Croatia”. The highest peak of the massif is Mount Saint George (Sveti Jure – 1762 m), where there is a television broadcasting apparatus.
Biokovo is affected by two climates – Mediterranean and Continental. There are frequent changes in weather and large temperature differences at different altitudes and between day and night. The average annual temperature in Makarska (at sea level) is 15.5 ° C, while on Mount Saint George it is 3.9 ° C. This means 11.6 ° C difference over a distance of only 3 km!
There is ice in deep ravines and caves all year round. The region itself, where most probably a Polish citizen has gone missing – the Topol peak (957 m) is an exceptionally technically and topographically difficult terrain with steep walls, cliffs and caves.
The course of the search:
The missing Polish citizen was last seen just after noon. He followed the trail down to Baška Voda. At 6 p.m. the relevant emergency services were notified. Less than an hour later, the first groups of mountain rescuers were already in the field.
During the first week of searching, 40-50 rescuers carried out daily searches. Croats checked both paths, trails and characteristic places – such as gullies. For 18 days, the rescuers conducted intensive activities, working out a total of about 400 person-days! Unfortunately, not even the smallest trace of the missing person could be found.
It is worth noting that the missing person was definitely not a mountain newbie. On the contrary, he has had many previous trips, runs and even completed mountain ultramarathons.
Polish rescue go into action.
At the request of the family and friends of the missing person, Polish rescuers from the Medyk Rescue Team foundation began the search. These are the same people who run the “Safe Kazbek” project. That’s right – you could have met us earlier in Georgia, where we are stationed at the Meteo base at an altitude of 3600 m during the season.
In cooperation with HGSS (Hrvatska Gorska Služba Spašavanja) and the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Zagreb on October 4-15, the search was resumed. 16 volunteer rescuers took part in the operation. During 5 days of searching and several days of reconnaissance, we worked out a total of 67 person-days, searching 444 km.
We often worked in difficult terrain, which required the use of specialized mountaineering equipment, incl. performing abseiling.
How does an example day from a mountain rescue work look like?
- We get up in the morning, around 6:00 am, eat breakfast and get ready to go.
- At 7:00 a.m. we start from the base in Makarska to the place where we start working in the field, we drive about 15 minutes. The very difficult terrain did not allow the use of off-road vehicles or quads on the spot.
- In larger groups, we come to the beginning of the given search sectors. Then we work in teams of two. Everyone has a pre-designated area that should be checked as closely as possible. We use GPS for this, which record our activities in the field – this is what is called work control.
- We operate in the mountains until each team has completed its task, or we are instructed by the leader to end earlier (e.g. due to an impending thunderstorm).
- Around 5 – 6 pm we return to the base in Makarska. There, a quick shower, organizing the equipment and lunch.
- In the evening, around 8 – 9 pm, we meet for a briefing, where we discuss the today’s work and plan and distribute tasks for the next day.
- The above-mentioned points should be repeated until the result (finding the missing person) or the end of the previously planned search time.
During several days of intensive work, we got to know a part of the Biokovo massif very thoroughly. We did a lot of abseils, we found a few bodies of mountain goats, old headlamps and other abandoned items. Certainly, we have looked at many places where a human foot has not been placed for many years.
Despite the great accuracy and dedication of rescuers, we did not find any trace of the missing person in the sectors we searched.
Over the last 60 years, 12 people have gone missing in the mountains of the Biokovo Massif. It shows how difficult and treacherous that area can be.
We want to thank very much:
HGSS Stanica Makarska (Croatian Mountain Rescuers)
for great cooperation on site!
You can watch a short drone video from the search mission here.
Drone photos – Dominik Cyran
Other photos – Marcin Zajączkowski