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Dogs aid in searching for Metrolink crash victims

September 15, 2008 |  1:21 pm

Dog_searches_through_metolink_crash

If you were watching live coverage of the fatal Metrolink crash in Chatsworth this weekend, you may have seen rescue dogs amid the firefighters and investigators searching for victims.

Three of the Canine Disaster Search Teams on the scene were trained by the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, a California non-profit, non-government organization that has partnered rescue dogs with firefighters to respond to disasters such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and other train derailments in the Los Angeles area.

The three teams included: Ron Weckbacher and his 11-year-old female black Lab named Abby from Thousand Oaks; Bill Monahan and Hunter, a red and white border collie, from the Los Angeles County Fire Department; and Dan Solis and Sandi, a 10-year-old male Border Collie, from the Kern County Fire Department, according to the group's spokeswoman, Kelly Krueger.

First on scene were Weckbacher and Abby,  who arrived at 8 p.m. Friday and searched all the cars connected to the Metrolink engine.

The first car was almost impossible to search because the Metrolink engine was shoved into it, ripping the car into shards of steel.  Abby searched in several areas where, had she lost her footing, she would have dropped eight feet below into the wreckage, Weckbacher said.

"It was very slippery and difficult at places," Weckbacher added. "Thankfully, Abby knows what she’s doing and was able to maneuver well through these tough spots, including walking across four-inch beams.”

And the journey to the site posed its challenges, too.

Weckbacher lives close to the crash site and was able to get there sooner, but handlers Dan Solis and Bill Monahan and their border collies were farther away and were flown in by helicopter, thanks to the Kern County Fire Department.

The helicopter picked up Bill and Hunter at a fire station close to their home, then flew to a field near Dan’s house to pick up Dan and Sandi.

From there, the teams were flown to Van Nuys Airport and escorted to the disaster site by L.A. City Fire Department.

When we arrived on scene it was tragic," Monahan said. "The loss of life was just devastating. Thankfully, the dogs did exactly what they've been trained to do, and impressed the other rescue workers with their ability to search the area so thoroughly and quickly."

In addition to the Metrolink disaster, more than 10 other canine disaster search teams trained by the same foundation have been deployed to Houston and Louisiana for Hurricane Ike recovery efforts.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo credit: Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times

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