An Agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia
Emergency Support Team (VEST) Status Green, Steady State

VEOC Activation Status: Green, Steady State

VDEM SAR Program Mourns Loss of Longtime Instructor

This update was published by Communications
Published: February 26, 2020

RICHMOND–William (Bill) Keith, a longtime Search and Rescue (SAR) instructor for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM), unexpectedly passed away on Friday. He was 57.

Bill was a part of the SAR program for 30 years and was a member of the Black Diamond Search and Rescue Council in Marion, Virginia — one of the many volunteer SAR teams that provide support during missing person incidents in the wilderness, rural or disaster environments. Bill was certified as an Operational Tracker.

“Anyone who knew Bill knew that he was a friend’s friend. He was careful, creative, a consummate critical thinker, a willing collaborator and a dedicated public servant. But more importantly, a great friend and mentor,” Black Diamond Search and Rescue Council said in a statement. “Bill will be missed by all who knew him, but his legacy and the memories of him will live on.”

Bill was also active in cave rescues through the National Cave Rescue Commission (NCRC) and was a member of the Search and Rescue Tracking Institute (SARTI).

“Bill Keith was a great man, dedicated husband, father, and search and rescue professional,“ said VDEM’s Chief of Search and Rescue Programs Bryan Saunders, who also grew up with Bill.

In addition to his volunteer rescue work, Bill was a member of the National Speleological Society (NSS) and introduced many neophyte cavers to the Southwest Virginia underground.

Bill was a longtime employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture of which he recently retired.

He is survived by his wife and two children. A Celebration of Life will be held on March 8.

VDEM’s SAR program manages and deploys a strategic and sustainable organization capable of a quick, competent, and integrated response to lost and missing person incidents. There are 21 volunteer SAR teams, with nearly 600 volunteers, on call 24/7.


Danielle Guichard
(804) 267-7612 Office
(804) 998-0534 Cell

Agency Contact

Director of Communications and Chief Agency Spokesperson