Sheriff's pilot locates missing families

January 7, 2012

Many news reports followed the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue team as they coordinated a search effort in the Mount Hood National Forest for a missing family from Lake Oswego on Monday and Tuesday.

Luckily for the missing father and two children, a Hood River man with aerial search experience stepped up to aid in the efforts, keeping them from a second night outdoors.

What most people don't realize is that the well-publicized rescue of the family from Clackamas was actually the second rescue performed that day near Mount Hood.

Hood River County Sheriff volunteer Grant Porter, who often flies with Sheriff Joe Wampler, joined the Clackamas County search efforts on Jan. 3 and successfully located the missing family, whose ordeal began while searching for a place to bring out their sleds.

But that rescue took place after Porter had already spotted another family who had become snow bound on Road 48, near Highway 35. Both families ultimately were returned home safe and sound.

With numerous emergency reports of lost individuals pouring in around the same time on Tuesday, sheriff offices from several counties were scrambling to clarify just how many people were lost and in which locations.

Around 8:45 a.m., Hood River County emergency dispatch received a call that a lone man on Highway 35 near Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort had flagged down a passer-by to say he needed emergency help.

Scott Seery, 39, of Woodburn, told the female Mt. Hood Meadows employee that his wife and child were stuck in a vehicle off a side road in a snow bank. The driver then called 9-1-1 and Seery began a walk back to his family.

By the time sheriff's personnel arrived, Seery had disappeared. Many access roads entering Highway 35 were searched by the sheriff's office with no sign of tire tracks or stuck vehicles.

"It was all very confusing at first," said Porter. "We weren't sure if we were looking for the same group or not." Porter was called in at about 10 a.m. to ready for an aerial assist. Weather did not permit take-off until close to noon.

Porter quickly located the Seery family and their pickup truck lodged in deep snow off of Forest Service road 48. The trio was attempting to hike back the one and a half miles to Highway 35.

"The family had driven in from Highway 26, taken the road 43 and looped north to the White River Road then connecting to road 48," said Wampler.

A snowcat was quickly enroute to the area, with Wampler leading the rescue. The family was found and transported to Mt. Hood Meadows where family arrived to take them home to Woodburn.

Seery's wife, Deborah, and 3-year-old son Kegan had spent the night in their Toyota pickup with Scott. They had no warm clothes and had no remaining food or water.

Meanwhile, other emergency rescue information was filling the airwaves on the search underway for the Lake Oswego family.

"People don't realize how strenuous it is to walk through deep snow," said Wampler. "Either of these cases could have turned out much more serious. I give Kudos to Grant Porter, who found the first family and went right on to help Clackamas County," said Wampler.

"As soon as I spotted the first family, I checked with Clackamas Sheriff's office to see if they were the family they were searching for. They weren't and so I just flew on over to help them out," said Porter.

The second family search was focused on the area around Timothy Lake. Porter spotted the group as they were attempting to hike out of deep snow, also after a night camped in their vehicle.

"They were walking toward Estacada in pretty deep snow. I spotted them around 2 p.m. It would have been a very long walk the way they were going. I think we saved them from another night outside," said Porter.

Stewart Schmidt, 33, and his son Gabriel McCoy, 15, and, daughter Aidan Schmidt, 6, had planned on a day in the snow Jan. 2, but did not return home as planned when their car became lodged in the snow after a wrong turn onto a back road near Timothy Lake.

Finding no snow at the Indian Henry campground on Monday, the family tried to leave the area but got waylaid by deep snow around 4:30 p.m.

Schmidt attempted to free the car until around 9 p.m., then decided to bed down for the night. Around 11 a.m. the next morning, the family began to hike out of the remote area.

Porter spotted the family's car about 2 p.m. on the southwest side of Timothy Lake near the PGE dam.

Porter then radioed coordinates for the car, located at an elevation of about 3,200 feet, to the search coordinators and within 20 minutes, a National Guard helicopter crew had located the family walking down an adjacent road.

Schmidt's wife, Rhianna, reported the family missing around 8 p.m. Jan. 2. Schmidt had told his wife to expect them home by 4 p.m. on that day. A search of the camping area near the family's reported snow-play site yielded no clues to their whereabouts, and the rescue mission began in earnest Jan. 3.

Relatives reported the family was equipped with snow gear for a day in the snow, but did not take items for overnight camping.

According to OregonLive.com, the family had limited food stocks that included just four packages of Gummi Bears, a half a loaf of bread and one granola bar.

The rescued Schmidt family arrived safely at the Estacada ranger station on Tuesday afternoon.

Porter has been a Hood River County Sheriff's reserve deputy for eleven years and is no stranger to successful rescue missions. He's flown search and rescue as a volunteer for 25 years. Porter has also received a meritorious service award from Wampler in 2002.

On behalf of the community, Wampler thanked Porter for years of volunteer dedication that had helped to save the lives of many outdoor recreationists.

"When we are on a search and have a need for an aerial platform, Grant is there for us every time," Wampler said.

For these incidents, Porter joined the successful search team involving Mountain Wave Communications, members of the Academy of Modern Martial Arts in Lake Oswego where the Schmidt family trains, and the Multnomah, Hood River and Wasco county sheriff's office search and rescue teams.

Advice for travel in snowy weather:

According to Sheriff Joe Wampler, this is the time of year to "be prepared." Several tips could save a life or prevent some chilly encounters:

Pack emergency supplies of food, water and warm clothes in the car

Notify friends or family of your route

Be cautious of leaving a stranded vehicle -- shelter may save your life

If the road you are traveling on gets snowier and appears to have no other tire tracks, turn back to more traveled routes

Be very cautious about walking in deep snow - physical exhaustion can result quickly

Keep tools hand to dig out your vehicle if snow accumulates.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge



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