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Send in the Search Team

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Story where a crew is assembled to find out what happened to a previous set of adventurers, a colony, a lost ship, etc. Occasionally, the original people have "gone native" in any number of ways. For whatever reason, the rescue does not go smoothly, and the rescuers find themselves struggling to save their own lives. Whoever the team is searching for is likely to be a Doomed Predecessor.

See also Ghost Ship, which is somewhat similar. In video games, this is a way of showing up Late to the Tragedy. Shares a few elements with Ontological Mystery.

Note: This trope was previously named "Heart of Darkness", which is the title of a work and has its own article. Heart of Darkness is an example of a Doomed River Expedition.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • King of Thorn begins with 160 people waking up from cryogenic sleep, hoping to be cured of a horrible disease that may turn their bodies to stone eventually. However, when they wake up, the entire facility is covered in thorny vines and infested with horrible monsters. Nobody's sure if it's been a hundred years or only a few days, what happened to everyone else, or the true nature of their disease.
  • Patlabor parodies this twice.
    • The first incident happens when lunch ordered from the only restaurant in the area never arrives and the delivery boy vanishes along with the lunch. A second order is made, and this time Division 2 sends out Ota and Shinshi in a carrier truck to retrieve the lunch themselves. They never return, and the rest of Division 2 goes to investigate. Once they don't return either, the mechanics send a group to find out what happened. True to the trope, everything goes horribly wrong.
    • The second incident occurs, when the mechanics chase a food thief to a mysterious well near the Section 2 hangars. Once again, Divison 2 sends Ota and Shinshi first and quickly lose contact with them. And yes, once again, a second team is sent after them and everything goes horribly wrong.
  • In Secret of Cerulean Sand, the Barzac expedition is sent to investigate both on Georges Buxton's fate and mysterious diseappearences.

  • Plague Ship, a Star Trek: The Original Series Fanfic begins this way, when a Federation ship is found dead in the space where it shouldn't be. The Enterprise team beams in to find what is happening...and things go downhill from there.

    Comic Books 
  • This is the basic plot of several Tintin stories, particularly Tintin in Tibet, in which Tintin forms a search team to find his friend Chang in the Himalayas, although he's not even sure Chang is alive. Chang turns out to have been cared for by the Yeti. In some other stories, Professor Calculus has the habit of being kidnapped, so Tintin and Captain Haddock, possibly accompanied by others, have to set off to find him.

    Film Live-Action 
  • The Abyss has the main cast sent to search a sunken submarine.
  • The Alien series:
    • Alien: The crew of the Nostromo must investigate a scrambled alien Distress Signal. Ripley notes after observing the partially translated message while the away crew is investigating the crashed vessel, however, that it looks more like a warning.
    • Aliens: The Marines are dispatched to LV-426 to determine why contact was lost
  • Apocalypse Now is loosely based on Heart of Darkness. It differs from most of the examples here in that the protagonist is sent on an assassination mission rather than to find out what happened. And it was revealed later in the film that he was the second person they sent after the first one stopped reporting in.
  • A hardly heroic version occurs in Black Death, where a local bishop sends a group of violent inquisitors to seek out another group of inquisitors he had previously sent to cleanse a village rumoured to practice paganism.
  • Event Horizon has the crew of the Lewis And Clark receiving a disturbing Distress Call from the title ship, which has gone missing for seven years. They soon discover that something has Gone Horribly Wrong with the title ship, and are soon thrown into a struggle to survive. Even worse, it's only after boarding and reading the Apocalyptic Log that they realize the "distress call" was a warning to stay away, and by that point the Event Horizon has no intention of letting them go without a struggle.
  • Forbidden Planet has a spaceship crew investigating an off-world colony that has mysteriously gone dark.
  • Mission to Mars is about a group of astronauts who are sent to the Red Planet to find out what what happened when contact with the previous team was lost, and to rescue them if possible.
  • Predator, though those participating don't actually know it. Their mission — supposedly to rescue a cabinet minister shot down by guerillas — is actually to find a special forces team that had been sent in to stop a guerilla offensive.
  • Ravenous (1999) is about the garrison of a Bleak Border Base launching a rescue mission for a snowed-in wagon train in 1840s California. If the phrase "snowed-in wagon train in 1840s California" sets off alarm bells for you, you probably have a pretty good idea what this movie is about.
  • Resident Evil Film Series:
    • Resident Evil (2002) featured a team of commandos searching an underground laboratory to find out why the AI in control of the facility killed everyone.
    • Resident Evil: Apocalypse saw Umbrella send in a second team to find out what happened to the first team. That went so badly it kicked off a zombie apocalypse within five minutes.
  • Miranda of Serenity, though in this case the protagonists are there for a slightly different reason and only found out that a search team had been sent after they arrive, by which time all that's left is a wrecked ship and an Apocalyptic Log.
  • Sunshine, sort of. The crew of Icarus II passes Icarus I in space, and initially decides not to stop. However, they are forced into this situation after their own ship suffers catastrophic damage and they are unsure of whether their payload is still functional.

  • Aurora Cycle: The climax of the first book comes because Squad 312 decides to investigate mysterious quarantined planet Octavia III to find out what could have happened there that resulted in the colony there being unpersoned and, even more strangely, long-dead colonists turning up as GIA personnel, with their bodies overgrown by mysterious plant life.
  • This is the plot of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, fifth novel of The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. When the usurping King Miraz was killing off his various political rivals and potential rebels, he got rid of seven noblemen by convincing them to go sailing off into the blue (an uncharted ocean), and as he hoped they were never seen again. After overthrowing Miraz, one of King Caspian's two goals in his eastward voyage is to find the seven lords, or at least learn their fates.
  • In Michael Crichton's Congo, the protagonists are sent on a follow-up expedition to Africa after the original team was mysteriously killed by apes in the heart of the Congo.
  • In The Eagle of the Ninth (and its film adaptation The Eagle (2011)), two spies are despatched beyond The Great Wall to investigate rumours that the standard of a Lost Roman Legion has fallen into the hands of a hostile tribe, and if possible find out exactly what happened to the legion in question.
  • Subverted in the short story Glacial by Alastair Reynolds. Everyone on the colony experienced severe dementia and died after researching alien slugs. The protagonists investigate... The alien slugs are totally harmless. A scientist killed everyone in the colony with Pfiesteria to prevent them from further damaging the local ecosystem.
  • The RCN novel The Far Side of the Stars has Daniel Leary's Princess Cecile purchased from the RCN by offworld nobility who want to search the hinterlands of the galaxy for a man who disappeared with a national treasure several decades earlier, and hire Leary and his crew (beached on half-pay due to a truce with the Alliance) to run the ship for them.
  • In Dave Duncan's Seventh Sword original trilogy, Wally Smith must find out what happened with his predecessor Shonsu so he doesn't repeat the same mistakes Sonshu made. Although his assignment isn't specifically to find out what happened, it's central to the plot. Wearing the same body that once belonged to Shonsu, but having none of Shonsu's memories doesn't help.
    • In the recent sequel The Death of Nnanji the whole mess starts with groups of warriors (essentially well-armed cartographers) disappearing and Nnanji and then Shonsu leading armies to investigate. Nnanji dies of old age decades after the last chapter, by the way.
  • Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land starts out with an expedition to Mars to find out what happened to the last expedition. They find Michael, an earthling brought up by Martians, setting up the rest of the novel. Grok?
  • Kim Newman's Alternate History novella Teddy Bears' Picnic, which is essentially a retelling of Apocalypse Now with British characters and a few nasty surprises.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the first episode of Blake's 7, a prison transport encounters an unidentified ship floating dead in space. After the first two parties sent to investigate fail to return, the captain assembles a team of disposable prisoners to investigate. This group contains the founding members of the eponymous seven, who take command of the deserted ship and escape.
  • In Monty Python's Flying Circus, an expedition to climb the twin peaks of Kilimanjaro (and build a bridge between them) is being assembled. The purpose: to find out what happened to last year's expedition.
    • It's worth noting that the guy in charge of the expedition suffers from double vision. Given that his brother was running the previous expedition, it must run in the family.
  • In the The Outer Limits (1963) episode "The Invisible Enemy", astronauts are sent to Mars to learn why the members of the previous expedition vanished. They were eaten by "sand sharks", who go on to menace the current expedition.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • "The First Commandment". SG-1 is sent to find SG-9, who have failed to report in from their offworld mission. The leader of SG-9 has gone mad and set himself up as the god of the native people, having discovered a piece of abandoned Goa'uld technology that will shield them from the extra-strength sun of their world.
    • "The Torment of Tantalus" has SG-1 discover that a team studying the stargate in the 1940s managed to activate it and send a man through. They travel to his address to bring him back, only to discover that the dialing device on the other side is broken.
    • "The Tomb": SG-1 and a Russian Air Force squad go looking for a Russian team that went missing during a period in the last season when the Russians had a stargate. They got eaten by a critter in the tomb of the Goa'uld Marduk.
  • Star Trek

    Video Games 
  • Area 51 (FPS) has HazTeam Bravo being sent in to recover the previous search team, HazTeam Delta.
  • The third Avernum game has your party assigned to take over the mission of the first surface exploration team. While your primary goal is to deal with problems on the surface, you're also asked to figure out what happened to the earlier team if you can.
  • The Baldur's Gate series has several quests along these lines, including the deadly circus tent of illusions in Shadows of Amn. When you arrive, all people know is that since the last performance started, no-one who has gone inside has come out.
  • Black Snow (Half-Life 2) takes control of an IT four-man team sent to investigate a scientific research station somewhere in Greenland. It's suspicious from the start - one of the group notes that gas masks and protective gear aren't standard repair equipment. It, of course, goes to hell as something kills all but one of the team - you.
  • Cold Fear begins with the Coast Guard receiving a Distress Call from a Russian whaler and sending the veteran Tom Hansen and a team of three to investigate. They're slaughtered in the first minute of the game leaving Tom alone.
  • Conquest: Frontier Wars: In the intro, a ship was lost shortly after going through a wormhole. After that, a small search team sent through the wormhole was also lost. They then decide to send in the protagonist commander.
  • Deadnaut has you doing this in order to retrieve crew data and ship logs from various assorted Ghost Ships.
  • In the video game Dead Space, you're a mechanic sent out after receiving a distress call from a mining vessel. When you arrive, you discover a Ghost Ship... only the "ghost" is actually a "space zombie virus". What actually happened to the people on the ship is detailed in Apocalyptic Logs both in-game and an Expansion Pack Past comic and animated movie released alongside it.
  • Dragon Quest IV: Ragnar's chapter starts with the king sending all his soldiers to investigate why children are disappearing from a nearby village.
  • One part of FEAR has you searching for a missing SFOD-D team. In the end, you only find their skeletonized remains.
  • Halo
    • Halo: Combat Evolved has the Master Chief being sent to a swamp to find Captain Keyes, who had gone missing after looking for a supposed cache of weapons, which turns out to be the Flood.
    • Halo: Reach starts with Noble Team being deployed to investigate a relay station that went dark, due to suspected insurrectionist activity, which actually turned out to be the Covenant.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, you're sent to find out what happened to the research facility in the Hrakert Rift on Manaan. They were all eaten by Selkath who had been driven insane by a giant Firaxan shark.
  • Chapter 25 of The Last Story sees the main characters' mercenary team being contracted to look for a group of 4 knights who went missing after investigating a new cave network that opened up on Lazulis Island after the magitek cannon was activated.
  • Mass Effect:
    • This is part of a Sole Survivor Shepard's background. Some years before Mass Effect, Shepard's unit had been sent to find out why the settlement on Akuze had suddenly gone dark. The settlement was attacked by thresher maws that ate Shepard's entire unit.
    • A quest in Mass Effect has you looking for a science team that has gone missing. Turns out they've been converted to husks and are for all intents and purposes dead. Shepard, naturally, kills them all.
    • In Mass Effect 2, Jacob's loyalty mission has you tracking down his long lost father to a planet where he crash landed a decade ago. There, he's set himself up as a god ruling over the remnants of the crew, who are now mentally degenerate due to toxins in their food.
    • In Mass Effect 3, one of the major side missions involves you going to a remote planet to look for a missing krogan scout team. They're all dead because the place is being used by the Reapers to breed rachni husks.
  • A frequent occurrence in the Metroid series:
    • Metroid Prime 2: Echoes: This is the reason Samus is dispatched to Aether: the Federation lost contact with the GFS Tyr, a ship full of Marines sent to the planet, and needed someone to investigate. By the time Samus gets there, all of the Federation troops are dead, their corpses occasionally possessed and puppeteered by the Ing.
    • The backstory of Metroid II: Return of Samus starts with a research team sent to SR388 to investigate Metroids going missing. A search-and-rescue team is dispatched to find them, which also goes missing, and then a military team is dispatched to find them... which also goes missing. The Galactic Federation then simply dispatches Samus to exterminate all Metroids. Its remake, Metroid: Samus Returns, omits the plot points about the research and SAR teams, and only mentions the military team in its introduction. Conversely, in the fan remake Another Metroid 2 Remake, it's Samus who gets sent to find the missing SAR team and does, mere moments too late to save them.
    • Metroid: Other M starts with Samus receiving a distress signal from the Bottle Ship and going to investigate and finding the Federation Army's 7th Platoon already there. Together, they must search the Bottle Ship for any survivors and find out what happened.
    • Metroid Fusion sees Samus sent to the Biologic Space Labs station to find out why the whole station went dark without warning.
    • Metroid Dread begins with Samus going to the planet ZDR at the Federation's request to investigate why they lost contact with 7 cutting-edge EMMI robots, which were themselves sent to investigate the possible presence of X Parasites on the planet.
  • Odium. You're a search team out to find the previous search team which was out to find out why were all communications with the city cut. (You'd think they'd give your team some heavier firepower after the previous guys failed...)
  • In The Pale Beyond, an expedition was sent out to find magnetic north, but was never heard from again. Several years later, the crew of its sister ship (the player's base) are tasked with finding out what happened to the first expedition, and completing its work if possible. A Driving Question is why so much money is being poured into finding one small ship, especially since the identities of the sponsors providing that money is a closely-guarded secret.
  • Phantasy Star IV has this as Hahn's primary motivation for joining the party— he wants to join Alys and Chaz, professional monster hunters, and bring them with him to search for the missing Professor Holt. Unlike most other examples, though, several search parties have already been sent and come back with nothing; Alys and Chaz are recruited because it's assumed (by everyone but Hahn) that the Professor and his crew were killed by dangerous monsters.
  • The first Resident Evil had the S.T.A.R.S. Bravo team sent in to investigate the murders in the Arklay Mountains, and the Alpha team sent in to find out what happened to the Bravo team after they went missing. Or at least that's what they tell you. In reality, Albert Wesker sent both teams in to be massacred by B.O.W.s so he could collect combat data.
  • Ryse: Son of Rome has the 14th Legion sent into northern Britannia to find the emperor's missing son Commodus.
  • How Spec Ops: The Line starts out. A three-man Delta Force team is sent in to catastrophe-stricken Dubai to figure out what happened to the 33rd battalion and their commander, John Konrad, after an especially fierce sandstorm cut off their contact with the rest of the military. Their orders are simple: locate any survivors, then get back into radio range and call for reinforcements. Since the plot is mainly inspired by Heart of Darkness, the whole thing quickly becomes far more complicated.
  • A cinematic in StarCraft has a demolition team investigating a science vessel after it was attacked by Zerg, bringing a bomb to blow the vessel apart if the Zerg are still present. The team is attacked by Zerg and quickly surrounded. Realizing there is no chance to survive, they hit the button to blow the ship up.
  • Any number of missions in Star Wars: The Old Republic.
  • Star Wars: Republic Commando has Delta Squad do exactly this for their former ship, the Prosecutor, which has actually been taken over by Trandoshan slavers. The rest of your squad is captured; you have to free them and fight through the burnt-out remains of the ship.
    Boss: I hope this flight recorder data gives us a clue as to how these stupid lizards took over a Republic Assault Ship!
  • System Shock 2 does this, sort of. The story begins as the maiden voyage of the newly-minted FTL-drive Von Braun, but when they get to Tau Ceti, it turns out that SHODAN escaped with her mutant progeny at the end of the first System Shock, and traveled in an escape pod at sublight speeds to Tau Ceti, where the mutants evolved into The Many.
    • Also, your character comes out of stasis to find almost the entire ship's crew have become infested with mind-controlling symbionts, becoming part of The Many.
  • At the beginning of Vietcong: Fist Alpha, Douglas and his team sees an F105 going down. Naturally, they search the jungle for its pilot. In the second game, Boone and his team is tasked with rescuing ARVN Captain Soat, who "knows too much".
  • XCOM: Enemy Within has the Site Recon Council Mission, which has Strike-One investigate a fishing village in Newfoundland after it mysteriously goes silent. The village has been completely overrun by Chryssalids, and an airstrike is eventually called to level the village.

    Web Original 
  • Part of the episode "Curse of the Ourang Medan" in Bedtime Stories (YouTube Channel) has a search party from the American freighter Silver Star send in some of their crew to investigate, and later recover, the titular Ghost Ship. Needless to say, they were in for quite a shock.

    Real Life 
  • Sir Henry Morton Stanley's search for the Africa explorer David Livingstone (the famous words "Dr. Livingstone, I presume...?" are also often referenced).
    • Subverted in the fact that Livingstone wasn't actually lost or in need of being searched for, as far as he was concerned.
  • In 1945, a group of 5 US Navy torpedo bombers disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle while on a routine training mission. Several planes and boats were sent out to look for them, and one of the rescue planes disappeared as well (generally assumed to have exploded in midair).
  • On the 8th of March 2014, a Boeing 777 airliner disappeared over the South China Sea. What followed is thought to be the largest Search-And-Rescue effort ever. The aircraft was never found, and the only evidence recovered were a few small pieces of the plane washing ashore on the eastern coast of Africa over the next three to five years.

Alternative Title(s): Rescue Party Plot