H.S. senior relishes thrill of saving lives

Juneau Color

Posted: Monday, January 05, 2004

Saving a life turned out to be more exciting than one Juneau-Douglas High School senior expected.

"It's about 10 times better than I thought it would be," said Chris Radach. His age didn't stop him from working on two searches for overdue hunters about a month ago with SEADOGS - Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search.

Radach turns 18 on Jan. 16. He is getting in shape to ship out in August to boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruitment Depot in San Diego. The hikes don't scare him, he said.

He has been around SEADOGS as long as he can remember. As a boy, he hid from their now-retired dog, Minnie, who was training for search-and-rescue service. He, like the dog, thought it was just a game.

But almost 12 years later, his second search mission ended early on Dec. 1, when a man they were seeking near Spaulding Trail walked out under his own power. The man "wouldn't have made it through the night" in heavily wooded terrain near Hawk Inlet on Admiralty Island, Radach said.

"His mustache was a block of ice," and his cotton clothing had been soaked, he said. Had the man been threatened by a bear, he wouldn't have been able to defend himself with his ice-covered gun.

Chris was called out before midnight with his father, Kirk, the family's 4-year-old chocolate Labrador, Ki, and another pair of handlers with a dog.

After he completed two searches that weekend, he returned to Juneau in time to make his first class. But his mother, Denise, called his school Monday morning to say he wouldn't be in. Chris was still tired when he went to work at Safeway that night.

Bruce Bowler, who heads SEADOGS, said the group requires participants to have graduated from high school. Chris is an exception, in part because he finished at the top of his class at the state troopers' search and rescue school in Sitka.

"We don't want to create any more victims," Bowler said. "We're very selective who we send out in the field."

Kirk said his son wouldn't have participated in the searches if he wasn't qualified.

"It's hard enough to baby some hunter who's close to dying," he said.

Kirk knew Chris had it in him at about 14, "when he could keep up with me" on hunting trips. Their hikes include crawling through thick brush.

"We go places most people won't," Chris said.

When Chris hikes, he generally doesn't use the trails, he said.

"I'm one of those extreme hikers," he said. If people do have to go out looking for him, "something is seriously wrong."

Kirk said he raised Chris the way his father raised him in Sitka - always keeping survival in mind.

Denise said she doesn't worry because Chris carries a radio.

The snow-covered mountain peaks Chris can see outside the front door of Radach's Mendenhall Valley home aren't just scenery to him. He said Bullard Mountain, east of the Mendenhall Glacier, is "laughing at me," because he didn't hike it this summer.

Kirk, a former Navy member, served on a ballistic nuclear submarine and was under water for months at a time. He said the military helped him, as he expects it will help his son.

"I did a lot of growing up in the Navy," Kirk said.

Chris said he will train as a sniper but would like the chance to be a Navy Seal. His experience with SEADOGS should count in his favor, he said.

He doesn't expect to see any action in Iraq, but he could be sent to the next battleground.

Although Chris was born in South Carolina, his family moved to Juneau before his first birthday. It has always been his home, he said.

SEADOGS could call his father away from Thanksgiving dinner, Chris said. But he also got caught up in the excitement of watching his father prepare after getting called out to rescue a stranger.

It's more than a thrill, Chris said. People need the help, and he has the training.

"Somebody's got to do it," he said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.

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