Ochoco NF searchers find body of missing camper, 83

Six-day effort involved units from many counties

MITCHELL, Ore. - (Update: Sonar unit to help in Lake Billy Chinook search)

An extensive six-day ground and air search on the rugged eastern side of the Ochoco National Forest for an 83-year-old Portland-area man who walked away from a campsite ended sadly with the discovery of his body Tuesday afternoon, Wheeler County sheriff's deputies said.

Peter Hughes, who goes by Paul, was reported missing last Thursday night to the Crook County Sheriff's Office, which in turn notified its Wheeler County counterpart. Hughes had left his campsite at Cottonwood Campground and had not returned.

That prompted a search that grew to involve search and rescue personnel from several counties, an AirLink helicopter, K-9 teams, drones, community members and searchers on horseback.

On Monday, Wheeler County deputies and Grant County Sheriff's Search and Rescue developed a plan for the date, to continue searching the many "step drainages" north of Cottonwood Campground, Undersheriff Mitch Elliott said Wednesday.

Late Monday morning, the searchers found possible clues of a person in the area of Balm Creek, which drains into Rock Creek, and search leaders decided to focus resources in the area and continue working downslope toward the Antone Ranch, Elliott said.

The AirLink helicopter was requested to return and a search manager boarded the helicopter to assist the pilot, who flew in the area for about an hour without finding Hughes. The rugged terrain and late hours slowed search efforts, Elliott said, and managers pulled searchers from the forest for their safety.

The search continued Tuesday in the Rock Creek drainage, and Hughes' body was found around 2 p.m. to the north, nearly 2 miles from his campsite, the undersheriff said. No information was immediately available in terms of likely cause of death or other details.

The Wheeler County Sheriff's Office thanked all of the search teams involved in the extended effort. Tuesday's search and recovery mission involved 23 searchers, including Wheeler and Grant County sheriff's deputies and SAR teams, as well as SAR team members from Crook and Lane counties.

The searchers helped bring Hughes out of the area by hand litter about three miles downslope through the Rock Creek Ranch, ending up at the Antone Ranch, Elliott said. 

"This area of the Ochocos is very steep and has many blown down trees, with other foliage," he said. During the six-hour operation, one searcher sustained a minor leg injury and had to be assisted out of the drainage.

Others involved in the search efforts included Oregon State Police, the Linn and Deschutes County SAR teams, the Civil Air Patrol, (ARES Amateur Radio Emergency Service) units from Crook, Umatilla and Grant counties and Life Flight.

It was one of three major searches in Central Oregon in the past week, the other two involving men still missing and presumed drowned in boating incidents on Wickiup Reservoir and Lake Billy Chinook late last week.

Deschutes County Sheriff's Office Marine Patrol continued to look on and around the reservoir west of La Pine for Michael Mead, 29, of Bend, one of two men who fell into the water early Thursday after their canoe capsized. The other man and a dog made it to shore safely.

Sgt. William Bailey said dog teams were searching the Wickiup shoreline on Tuesday, and they are "evaluating another attempt" with side-scan sonar from the Klamath County Sheriff's Office that was used last Friday.

Jefferson County Sheriff's Office patrols at Lake Billy Chinook continue to look for Patricio Pineda, 52, of Oregon City, who tried to dive off a pontoon boat last Friday, hit his head on a railing and sank out of sight, eluding an initial search by friends and later efforts by deputies and others.

Sheriff Jim Adkins said Wednesday the Klamath County boat equipped with side-scan sonar will help search for Pineda on Friday.

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