According to eyewitness accounts at the time, Rea, along with other members of the team, were called to the La Paloma Flats area near Big Tujunga Canyon. There were reports that 32 people were cut off from the main road, which had been flooded. One of the stranded was a woman who was ill.
The team attempted several crossings, but was stopped by the river’s rushing flood waters. Rea’s group had stretched and secured a cable across two log jams in the river. Once the cable was secured, Rea was the first to cross back over. He lost his balance two-thirds of the way across. Team member Rodger Bates attempted to put more tension on a rope so Rea could steady himself, but he fell into the eight- to 10-feet deep water. The river was traveling at about 25 miles per hour. Bates ran across the log jam and grabbed onto Rea’s safety line, but the force of the water was too great and the body of his teammate remained submerged. It wasn’t until early the next morning that the water subsided and Rea’s body could be recovered.
“He had a wife and four daughters,” Koegler said.
The Montrose Search and Rescue Team is made up of local volunteers who are paid $1 a year. For that, the community receives a group of dedicated individuals who leave their home, often in the middle of the night, to rescue lost and stranded hikers and motorists. They also respond to vehicular accidents, fires, earthquakes and floods.
“We train all the time,” Koegler said.
The team, based out of Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station, is one of the few search and rescue teams that are trained in ice rescues. They continue to train in every rescue scenario imaginable, always challenging themselves to do more.
“But at the end of the day, you want to go home to your family,” Koegler said.
The team began in 1942. Koegler credits the intense training members go through for the record of one life lost and only a few broken bones throughout their established 67 years.
Remembering Rea is important not only to honor one of their own, but also to remind the team that no matter how much they train, there is always a danger in what they do, Koegler said.
In 1969 the Montrose Search and Rescue Team established the Chuck Rea Memorial Award given to team members for their outstanding service, dedication and contribution of their time and skills.