Missing versus Lost

When I write about SAR I often use the terms “Missing” and “Lost” to describe the state of the people we are looking for. Did you know that I use these terms with a deliberate purpose? They mean something quite different.

Someone is missing when you don’t know where they are.

Someone is lost when they don’t know where they are.

Someone can be both missing and lost at the same time.

Here’s an example:

Bob goes for a hike, and is moving slowly because there’s a lot of snow on the trail, and he wasn’t expecting it in May. He doesn’t make it home at 6PM, there’s no cell signal and Bob can’t call home. His wife calls SAR at 8PM. Bob is Missing. He knows where he is, but his wife, and the SAR team, do not.

In the mean time, the sun goes down, and Bob, worried about what his wife will think, and the embarrassment of having a SAR team look for him, keeps moving in the dark. He doesn’t have a flashlight. He stumbles through the bush and realizes he’s off the trail. Bob is now lost, he has no idea where he is.

Stawamus Chief at Sunset

Am I lost?

Eventually the SAR team contacts BOB via his cell phone, and they use the GPS to get his coordinates. Now Bob is still lost (he doesn’t know where he is), but no longer missing – the SAR team has his exact coordinates and are very confident that they are accurate. Please note that this is something that happens a lot less often than various TV shows would lead you to believe.

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