Missing Sisters man's body found at Suttle Lake

More than a week after kayaker's disappearance

SISTERS, Ore. - (Update: Missing man's body found)

The body of a 33-year-old Sisters man who disappeared at Suttle Lake west of Sisters more than a week ago has been recovered, Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins said Tuesday.

The body of Ben Hendrickson was recovered from the lake around 8:40 a.m., Adkins confirmed in a post to the sheriff's office Facebook page. He had last been seen late Saturday night, Aug. 12 at the family's campsite at Blue Bay Campground.

“No foul play is suspected,” the sheriff wrote, “and alcohol is suspected to be a factor in this tragic drowning.”

“Family members have been notified and I ask everyone to respect their privacy and pray for them, as they deal with this tragedy,” the sheriff added. “I cannot even begin to imagine what they have been going through over the past 11 days, and now with this news!”

Earlier story:

Nearly a week after a Sisters man disappeared at Suttle Lake west of Sisters, authorities said Friday their extensive search efforts have failed to find him. They said the active search has been suspended, pending any new information, and asked anyone wishing to help the family with special search capabilities to contact his fiance'.

Ben Hendrickson, 33, was camping with his family at Blue Bay Campground last weekend and was last seen late Saturday night.

On Sunday morning, Hendrickson's brother, Chadd, said the family noticed Ben's kayak was gone.

"He said he was going to bed, but he decided to possibly take out his kayak and go out by himself, and since then we haven't found him," Chadd Hendrickson said.

On Wednesday, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office took a boat out with cadaver dogs.

And a boat from Klamath County with special side-scan sonar arrived to help in the search. 

All while his family and friends waited at the shore, including Hendrickson's fiancee, Heather VanHouten.

"I never thought this would happen to us, you think it happens to everybody but you, you just don't know how to react until it happens," she said. 

"It's just unreal," VanHouten said.

Hendrickson moved to Sisters from Illinois to be with VanHouten, a childhood friend.

"We were best friends in middle school. My parents moved me here when I was 13; we kept in touch for a long period of time," VanHouten said. 

"We connected on Facebook again, 12 years later and it was like not a day had passed, and it was like we were 13 years old all over again," she said.

Now, VanHouten and all their friends and family can only wait for answers, and they don't know when they'll come. 

"You know we're all trying to play crime scene detectives, aside from what the sheriff's (deputies) are doing, and it just nothing adds up... nothing makes sense. It's four days, and he's nowhere to be found so far," she said.

VanHouten said the outpouring of support they've received from the community has been incredible.

"He was so loved, and it's amazing for his family to see that because they don't live here. It's so comforting to know he was well-loved by everybody, and we won't stop because we need him to come home," she said.

Hendrickson worked at Sisters Forest Products, where the company owner described him as a "pleasant, easygoing young man."

On Friday, Undersheriff Marc Heckathorn said specialized sonar equipment, three search dogs and Deschutes County Sheriff's Search and Rescue divers have covered the area and not found Hendrickson. 

"No new clues have been located beyond a kayak, hat and paddle that were found washed ashore that belonged to Ben," Heckathorn said. "No one saw Ben disappear and his location remains a mystery."

On Thursday, a Jefferson County SAR member searching on land "took a tumble and fell," the undersheriff said, and was taken by ambulance to St. Charles Bend for treatment of an elbow injury.

"Ben remains a missing person who his family desperately wants returned to them," Heckathorn said. 

The family has identified Hendrickson's fiance', Heather VanHouten, as a point of contact. The family asks anyone who has special search capabilities and might be able to offer their expertise or assistance to the family to contact VanHouten at 541-848-3063.


Earlier story:
Volunteers continued searching the water and shore of Suttle Lake Tuesday for a Sisters man who disappeared over the weekend and whose kayak and paddle later washed ashore. A special type of sonar will be brought in Wednesday to continue the search.

Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins identified the missing man as Ben Hendrickson, 33, who last was seen around 9:30 p.m. Saturday where he was camping, at Blue Bay Campground. 

"Sunday morning, when the family woke up, they saw that his kayak was gone, so they assumed he was on the water," Deputy Ron Larson said. "They did a search of the area. They found his kayak at the east shore."

Adkins told NewsChannel 21, “We have located his vehicle, kayak, a baseball hat and a kayak paddle.”

Adkins said Tuesday that Klamath County Sheriff's Office was sending its side-scan sonar device Wednesday to assist in the search effort.

Undersheriff Marc Heckathorn said Hendrickson's vehicle and camping gear were still at the campground and he had not been home or to any places he usually frequents.

Both Jefferson and Deschutes counties' search and rescue teams performed a quick search of the area on both land and water on Sunday, until darkness set in, without success, he said.

Both teams continued their efforts Monday with a detailed search of the area that also found no new signs of the man.

Volunteers not affiliated with the sheriff’s office continued search the area Tuesday, Heckathorn said. 

The sheriff’s office boat will return Wednesday with the specialized team from Klamath Falls to conduct very high-resolution mapping of the lake. 

The lake is a popular camping and boating spot, located 14 miles northwest of Sisters and 5 miles east of Santiam Pass. 

The undersheriff noted that "it is difficult to get lost on land at Suttle Lake, due to the lake being surrounded by paved roads."

"Ben was said to be in good physical condition and wasn't believed to have (gone) on a late-night hike, but it is possible," Heckathorn said. He noted that the man's kayak and some personal property were found on the first day of searching, east of the campground, along the lake's southern shoreline.

"These items were not found together and were spaced apart," he said. "Ben's cellphone is missing and has been off since Saturday night and was not useful in obtaining any GPS data."

"At this point, we believe it's a recovery," Larson said. "Our hope is that he'll show up at a friend's house, but at this time we're just doing what we can to search the lake to see if we can return him to his family and friends."

Three dive teams, two shore teams and four boats searched the area Monday, both visually and using sonar. 

Anyone with information on Hendrickson's whereabouts was asked to call Jefferson County's Frontier dispatch immediately at 541-475-2201 and a deputy will collect the information.

A GoFundMe page has been established to help the family with expenses, at

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