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October 2, 2013 at 10:13 AM

UPDATE: Ground search for hikers halted; ‘extensive air search’ tomorrow

UPDATE: 7:53 p.m. | The ground searches for a 31-year-old man missing in the Big Lava Beds area of Gifford Pinchot National Forest and a 23-year-old woman who has been hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail have been suspended, according to a news release from Skamania County Undersheriff Dave Cox.

Kristopher Zitzewitz, was looking for caves with his partner when the two were separated around 2 p.m. Saturday, the release said. A a team of 18 searchers spent Wednesday scouring the area where he was last seen, but they were unsuccessful and eventually weather conditions led them to call the search off, the release said. A Coast Guard helicopter called in to help had to be turned back because of the weather, the release said.

Officials are also still looking for 23-year-old Alejandra Wilson, the Pacific Crest Trail hiker who was reported missing Monday after she didn’t check in with her father at the designated time, the release said. Wilson is believed to be somewhere north of Riley Creek in Northern Skamania or Yakima Counties, the release said.

Search and rescue officials expect to mount “an extensive air search” tomorrow,  and a ground search will resume on Saturday, if needed, Cox said in the release.

ORIGINAL POST | Search and rescue officials renewed their efforts Wednesday to find a man and a woman missing in separate, remote parts of Southwest Washington after a helicopter rescued two other hikers from waist-deep snow.

Hikers Matt Margiotta and Kyla Arnold were hoisted aboard a Coast Guard helicopter Tuesday evening from the snowy Pacific Crest Trail where it crosses the western flank of 12,280-foot Mount Adams. The helicopter rescue came after a group of ground searchers made it to within less than a mile of the couple, only to be stopped by deep snow and failing daylight.

The helicopter also picked up the five ground searchers, including one who had sprained an ankle, the Coast Guard said.

Two other hikers remained missing Wednesday. One, Kristopher Zitzewitz, was last seen Saturday in the Big Lava Beds area of Gifford Pinchot National Forest, southwest of the mountain. Ground crews resumed searching for him Wednesday morning, said Skamania County Undersheriff Dave Cox, and though there was at least a brief break in the weather it remained unclear whether crews would be able to look by helicopter as well.

Meanwhile, officials were coming up with a game plan for finding Alejandra Wilson, who had also been hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and was believed to be about a day’s hike north of where Margiotta and Arnold were found.

Wilson’s father, Dane Wilson, of Portland, last heard from her Friday, as she was leaving Trout Lake, a hamlet south of Mount Adams, for White Pass. He reported her overdue after she failed to check in again by Monday, but it wasn’t clear whether she needed any assistance.

Margiotta, Arnold and Wilson were all hiking the length of the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs 2,650 miles from Mexico to the Canadian border, and kept online journals of their travels.

In an update Friday, Arnold mentioned having run into Wilson. She also described having nearly run out of food after heavy rains  forced her and Margiotta to huddle under a tarp for four days last week — long delaying their arrival in Trout Lake.

“We finally made it to Trout Lake today and another huge storm is rolling in,” Arnold wrote. “Everyone says we can’t make it because of the weather situation, and to be honest it’s quite terrifying, but I can’t fathom coming this far and giving up.”

The Yakima County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue team was on standby to provide assistance as needed, Sgt. George Town said Wednesday. He noted that it isn’t uncommon for late-season Pacific Crest Trail arrivals to run into snow and sometimes need help, but the hikers are usually experienced and prepared after more than 2,000 miles on foot.

“They get a fair amount of experience between Mexico and here,” he said. “They’re adept, generally speaking, but this was a pretty good early snowfall.”

Wilson was apparently far enough north that she would be out of cellphone range, unlike Margiotta and Arnold, who managed to call for help Monday and give rescuers their coordinates, Town said.

Comments | More in General news | Topics: hikers, missing, rescued


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