A 60-year-old La Grande man whose pickup ran out of gas on a forest road east of Prineville, prompting an air and ground search of the rugged area, was found dehydrated but in good shape Wednesday afternoon by family members near Ochoco Reservoir. Officials said he had walked more than 20 miles cross-country over two days.
David Whitson, found by his brothers around 4 p.m., was “scraped up a bit and dehydrated,” but otherwise okay and declined medical treatment, said Crook County Undersheriff John Gautney.
Whitson apparently spent two nights in the Ochoco National Forest after his pickup ran out of gas on a trip from La Grande to Albany. He called his family in Albany and told them he was near the Ochoco Divide and was out of gas. The family members went to the area but were unable to find him or his pickup, so they called the sheriff’s office for help.
The searchers found Whitson’s abandoned pickup late Tuesday evening and began tracking him from there. On Wednesday morning, two Search and Rescue K-9 teams began a search, along with SAR volunteers.
They were joined in Wednesday’s search by an Oregon Army National Guard HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter out of Salem. The medevac helicopter is assigned to Charlie Company, 7-158 Aviation Regiment of the Army Aviation Support Facility No. 1, Gautney said.
Gautney said he didn’t believe Whitson had food or water supplies. He had made the call to family from atop a ridge after running out of gas, but then dropped in elevation as he walked and lost cell coverage.
“We were still getting pings from the cell phone, but he got mad when he lost coverage and threw it,” the undersheriff said.
As a result, the search effort was concentrated in the area where the cell phone pings came from, with authorities unaware he didn’t have it any more. “We thought he was down” at that location, Gautney said.
Earlier, Gautney had noted the man had "possible medical problems" that were "not believed to be life-threatening," declining to be more specific publicly.