‘This Is a Human Being’: How Tech Rescue Volunteers Dropped Everything to Recover Body Found in the Eel River

Four members of Southern Humboldt County Technical Rescue guiding the body found earlier in the day through rapids

Four members of Southern Humboldt County Technical Rescue guide a recovered body through rapids on the Eel River. [All photos by Talia Rose]

The recent rains had pushed the waters of the Eel River higher and the sound of the cold current rushing over rocks was loud when Southern Humboldt County Technical Rescue team member Thomas Norris met up with Talia Rose yesterday near the Humboldt Mendocino county line.

“She had messaged us on Facebook about 12:45,” Norris, a Caltrans worker who volunteers his time with the team explained. Talia Rose, a wildlife photographer had seen what she initially thought was the carcass of a deer. She had even posted about the encounter on her local nature page. But then, a comment made her second guess what might have been lying dead in the water. She reached out to the SHCTR team who are well-known for their work locally.

The two met up and walked up the river. When they arrived, Norris said he could tell it was a body. “I tried to wade over but it was too deep,” he said.

Meanwhile, four other members of the SHCTR team were arriving. Diana Totten and Aurora Studebaker, both Southern Humboldt businesswomen, were there soon after Norris.

“We waited until Kai [Ostrow] and Shawn [Studebaker] brought the rescue rig on the trailer,” Norris explained.

The team's vehicle and trailer for carrying their equipment.

The team’s vehicle and trailer for carrying their equipment.

As the team prepared to enter the water, husband and wife, Aurora and Shawn Studebaker, were making arrangements by cell phone for their children and their businesses. “They got to drop everything they do,” Norris said. “They are on the phone trying to get someone to take the kids home. Trying to conduct business. A lot of planning. They’ve got young kids so you can’t just leave them by themselves.”

The SHCTR team works with the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office on the details for recovering the body.

The SHCTR team works with the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office on the details for recovering the body.

Meanwhile, Norris said, Totten, who runs a cannabis consulting business and has long time local knowledge because she was born here was determining on which side of the county line the body had been located. Totten would stay on shore helping the team troubleshoot with the correct local law enforcement and landowners if necessary.

The Mendocino County Sheriff's deputy was amazed that they did all this as volunteers,

The Mendocino County Sheriff’s deputy was amazed that the team were all volunteers, said Talia Rose.

“The body was in a somewhat serious state of decomposition,” Norris explained. And the body was intertwined in a downed tree. “It took a long time to disentangle him,” he said. And all the while, Norris said, the team was holding in their mind, “This is a human being…We’re going to treat the body like it is our family and treat it with respect and dignity.”

Each step they took while immersed in chilly water, had to both preserve evidence in case the man’s death was a crime and honor the spirit of the person who had died, Norris explained.

The Tech Team uses a series of ropes to carefully free the body which was snagged on a tree and to move it safely.

Once the man’s body was freed, the team maneuvered him carefully into a body bag. “Then we secured him onto our raft,” Norris said. “And, rafted him downstream to Cooks Valley where we unloaded him and the coroner took custody.”

The team loaded the body carefully into the raft.

Norris confirmed that the equipment used was mostly purchased by the volunteers. “We raise money to buy equipment,” he explained. Some of it, like the pair of gloves he tore through in the frigid water, will probably be replaced at his own expense. Other equipment is purchased through fundraisers mostly run by the same group of volunteers who staff the team.

Once the man’s body had been transferred to the Mendocino County Coroner’s custody, the team wasn’t through working. “Afterwards, it takes two to three hours to clean all of our equipment,” Norris explained.

Now that the unknown man’s body was in the care of another team in charge of determining who he was, the SHCTR team must then go back to their busy lives. They needed to complete other obligations that they left undone while helping their community and giving closure to the family of the man that died.

In all probability, they’ll never meet the relatives of the dead but every time they recover a body, they will help heal the anguish of those left behind.

Earlier Chapter: Wildlife Photographer Discovers Body in the Eel River



  • Much respect. We’re lucky to have these dedicated people in our community.

  • It’s so mind blowing all the different things that can happen to our soul capsules after we vacate.

    Much respect and love to SHTR, y’all are awesome!!

    RIP to whoever you are, I hope your doing okay in the next realm.

    • “soul capsules” I’m sorry but Decarte was wrong. Elisabeth of the Palatinate was correct.

      There is no evidence of any supernatural notion of souls existing.

      • Riiiiight…because THAT’S the actual topic here…..?

      • Absence of proof is not proof of absence.

        • >”Absence of proof is not proof of absence.”

          Exactly ! Werewolves ? Dracula ? Bigfoot ? Flying Spaghetti Monster ?

          • santa, seeing isnt believing, believing is seeing

            • Belief is based on faith, not observable evidence (visual or otherwise) only faith.

            • As one one who will believe anything, I always rely on my fall-back position: “If you can’t hit it with a hammer, it isn’t real”.

              Even though The Southern Humboldt Technical Rescue team is completely volunteer, they probably have the most combined experience of any team on the north coast.

              Getting paid to do a job doesn’t necessarily make a person qualified. Dedication, sincerity, and hard work DOES! The tech rescue team deserve everyone’s support. They will be there for you if you need them.

          • The Flying Spaghetti Monster is def real.

            How else could our universe be so fine tuned for the existence of pastas?

            May you be touched by his noodly appendage. Ramen.

        • No one is looking for or claiming “proof” here. Only evidence.

          That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.


          • If you meet a person wandering down the street talking about the rainbow colored unicorn that farts skittles that can easily be dismissed out of hand.

            If you come across billions of people talking about the same unicorn perhaps it’s existence should be taken into consideration.

            • At one time most of the world believed in dragons and other monsters (maybe still does). The popularity of a belief is not a good metric for its truth value. It is more likely that this creature exists, or that those talking about it are victims of an elaborate ruse?

              We can always consider that anything is possible, that is why only questions of probability are really interesting.


              You gonna go with pascal’s wager now?

              • This has gone far afield from the story.

                Personally I’m a heathen, but to assume that the material world is the absolute beginning and end of all things is to attempt invalidate experiences to the contrary. And these are personal experiences not an elaborate ruse.

                The blind spot in modern science is the measuring stick: if you can’t quantify it in some way then it does not exist. That is a fallacy. As we expand our capacity to measure both great and small we have come to realize we live in a universe with more mystery than anything else.

                • “This has gone far afield from the story.”

                  So what?

                  “to assume that the material world is the absolute beginning and end of all things is to attempt invalidate experiences to the contrary.”

                  That is not an assumtion I hold. Assumptions are lacking evidence by definition. But no, holding the position that, based on the best available evidence, there are no supernatural forces at work in our universe would not invalidate other peoples experiences. The lack of evidence for their claimed experience is what invalidates them, not as being possible but as being probable.

                  “And these are personal experiences not an elaborate ruse.”

                  They are reports of personal experiences. Just like personal experiences of children and santa clause, or people being abducted by aliens, or seeing leprechauns. As far as elaborate ruses, I was referring to your unicorn hypothetical, which is far more likely to be a ruse than a unknown magical being. (occam’s razor)

                  “if you can’t quantify it in some way then it does not exist. That is a fallacy.”

                  Yes and not at all a view that comes from the sciences. If it cannot be observed in any way, it is most likely to not exist, that is what science actully says.

                  “As we expand our capacity to measure both great and small we have come to realize we live in a universe with more mystery than anything else.”

                  We grow in this capacity thanks to the scientific method. As we are relieved of supernatural explanations, yes we must admit that the vast majority of knowledge is yet to be acquired. As I have said many times, anything is possible. Let’s avoid arguments from ignorance. Anything completely lacking in evidence may yet be true.


                • Science’s blind spots get filled up with religious Bullshit. Outer space used to be filled with Gods, demons and angels. Disease used to be Gods, demons and angels. History used to be the realm of the supernatural, too. I think it’s better to fill the “blind spots” with “I don’t know” rather than assuming that that’s where your god is hiding.

              • I love Unicorns, Rainbows, and Skittles…sounds like my kinda heaven. Nonetheless, I applaud your comment. Uber applaud the rescue team. I grew up there, families including mine rely on volunteers to save the day…Thank you for still being humbly human up North. From San Francisco, religion/nuttos do not belong on this thread or out of the house for that matter.

                • Oh are you one of those dogmatic atheists? Who thinks spiritual belief is only for “religious/nuttos”? Nobody mentioned religion or mental illness on this thread until you and your self righteous declaration that they don’t belong on this thread. What is wrong with you? Insulting the majority of humanity on a thread about wonderful local people helping get a humans corpse to the morgue and possibly some closure for his family. RIP

      • Cogito, ergo sum=
        I think I think, therfore I think I am, I think.

      • “Mathematical models are deterministic while statistical models include an unknown, whose impact is analyzed using probability theory.” – Joe M.

        (responding to December 6, 2018 10:29 am)

      • Since nothing is proven or disproven, it seems that the best we can do is acknowledge that any one opinion on the topic is about as valid as any other.

    • Your comment really brought forth the acid prophets.

  • All honor for your commitment to humanity. You are exceptional and we thank you.

  • These are some of the most tireless, compassionate, heroic people ever. Diana Totten led a fire crew that saved a town in the recent horrifying Camp Fire. Walk into the credit union and give a donation to the SHTRT today! Who knows when we might need them next.

    • Thank you! These folks do so much for our community.

      • Kym, there are a lot of trolls on your site that like to stir the sh*t pot with rhetoric that has nothing to do with the subject matter so shouldn’t they be the ones who have to lick the spoon? Just saying!

    • The SHCTR is awesome in its skills and dedication.

      I posted several paragraphs and the link to the RHBB Totten / Paradise article / photo essay on several international internet forums. Hope this was OK. Such an uplifting narrative for a catastrophic event.

  • What an extraordinary group of dedicated volunteers, starting with Talia Rose….. All this work will bring a bit of comfort, and definite closure, to some family soon. Thank you all so much!

  • Talia…your commitment to taking pictures of wildlife has brought this man’s family closure on him being missing. Difficult but compassionate for you to follow through with this difficult task. Thank you for being you. And thank you to the rescue team.

  • True humanitarians! Thank you!

  • R.I.P. Mr. Mysterious. May your loved ones now find comfort when you’re brought back home.
    Thank you Tech Team, you certainly earn my respect. Not many can do what you are challenged with.

  • Also amazing is how many of us know every single one of the rescue team, one of the great benefits and honors of living in a small community. Thank you all. I am always amazed by your valor.

  • You were a really bright spirit and I am thankful that I got to meet you and call you a part of my family. One of the most well spoken and passionate people that I have shared a Christmas eve dinner with. Rest in peace and know you were loved and respected by many. Thank you for sharing advice and humor with me. I will sincerely miss those talks…. To the public please remember that a family is grieving is reading your comments and to try and speak with compassion. In these times we really need more love.

  • Thank you rescuers, thank you Talia, thank you commnity. Blessings for the lost life of this man, and for the families sorrow🙏🏼💚🙏🏼

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