A Bend father and his 13-year-old son whose Sunday snowmobile outing turned into an unexpected test of survival after they got turned around, ran out of gas and were found separately in good condition Monday afternoon near Elk Lake, more than 10 miles west of where they began.
It was a happy end to a major and growing search effort involving dozens of volunteers and Deschutes County sheriff's deputies, among others.
"We get worried, just like anybody else," said Deschutes County sheriff's Capt. Shane Nelson. "When we respond to these incidents, we cannot help but relate it to our own personal experiences, and our own families."
Around 1:20 p.m. came word that the boy, Chase Hunter Abney, had been found by a man on snowmobile, about five miles south of Elk Lake Resort (west of Mt. Bachelor) on snowmobile Trail 5, apparently in fair condition, Nelson said.
The teen said he and his father, Eric William Abney, 40, of Bend, had been snowmobiling when they got turned around in the wilderness, took a wrong fork in the road and ran out of gas about five miles south of Elk Lake, on snowmobile Trail 5.
Nelson said the father dug a snow cave for shelter, lined it with tree boughs and started a fire for warmth on a night when temperatures plunged well below freezing, with new snow falling in the area.
The father had left the snow cave shortly before 1 p.m. Monday to hike out and get help. He was located around 2:20 p.m., apparently in good condition, Nelson said.
A SAR member radioed to the command post at Mt. Bachelor ski resort that the father was "in his own words, ambulatory and in good condition -- a little hungry, a little thirsty, but in great shape."
Searchers had said the family reported they were experienced, well-equipped snowmobilers -- and the happy ending to the search appeared to bear that out. Nelson said the father and son were checked at the scene by SAR medics and did not require medical attention.
Sheriff Larry Blanton told NewsChannel 21 that he and the rest of the searchers were "very grateful" for the successful outcome in the cold, snowy backcountry.
"They don't all end that way," Blanton added.
Searchers fanned out to look for the pair after their pickup and empty snowmobile trailer were found around 7:30 a.m. at Edison Butte Sno-Park, east of Mt. Bachelor and about 20 miles southwest of Bend.
Family members called Deschutes County 911 dispatchers shortly before 7 a.m. Monday to report the pair had left Sunday to go snowmobiling near Mt. Bachelor but failed to return, said sheriff's Capt. Shane Nelson.
Family members said the father and son were prepared for the weather, adequately dressed, with food and water and possibly survival-type gear, Nelson said.
The family didn't know which sno-park they were planning to depart from, so a search got under way, which led to the pickup and trailer at Edison Butte Sno-Park.
Several teams of searchers were headed out, including Sheriff's Search and Rescue volunteers on snowmobiles, amid blowing snow and reports of zero visibility at times in some areas.
By the time it ended, about 70 searchers were involved in the operation, including about 30 volunteer riders with two local snowmobile clubs, the Central Oregon Snowbusters and La Pine Lodgepole Dodges. Also, Oregon State Snowmobile Association groomers were reassigned to the area to help in the search, Nelson said.
"When we know we're out there looking for other people's family members, that has a heavy emotional impact on us," Nelson said. "So I can't tell you the huge relief that we have. I am absolutely pleased that we have located the father and son."
Sgt. Bryan Husband said the searchers had been looking for a pair of 2005 SkiDoo snowmobiles in the area. Shortly after the pair were found, Nelson outlined the resources as follows:
- Six experienced snowmobile teams of two were searching the trails accessible from Edison Snow Park.
- Snowshoers were also hiking into shelters not accessible via snowmobile trails.
- Trailheads were being covered, asking the public for any information about possible sightings in the high country.
- Medical personnel were staged at the command post for deployment if needed.
- Air resources were lined up when weather permitted to fly.
- Snow cats were deployed focusing on the shelters in the high country.
- Approximately 28 volunteers from two area snowmobile clubs were being deployed with DSCO SAR volunteers.
- A command structure of Sheriff’s Office personnel and SAR volunteers were planning the next steps in the operation and will be located at Mt. Bachelor. "Once again Mt. Bachelor is opening their facilities to SAR for this operation – which is greatly appreciated," the news release said.
The incident command post was set up at Mt. Bachelor's West Village Lodge. Resort personnel cordoned off areas for SAR use, also providing food and hot drinks to searchers, Nelson said.