More than five days of searching have yielded no results in finding the Seattle-area hiker that went missing at Mount Rainier National Park.
This is the third hiking disappearance in as many months; back in August, the mountain took the lives of Black Diamond resident Craig Goodwin and JBLM soldier Antonio Scott.
Sam Dubal, 33, was last known to be hiking the Mother Mountain Loop out of the Mowich Lake Trailhead. He left Friday, Oct. 9 and was due out on Saturday, Oct. 10.
Fellow hikers have confirmed Dubal was on his itinerary the first day, but he did not return to his car on Saturday as planned, a press release stated. He was reported missing midday Monday, Oct. 12.
A quick-response teams of National Park System rangers began searching that afternoon, and continued searching through the night, with the help of a U.S. Air Force helicopter from the 36th Rescue Squadron out of Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane using Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR).
Since then, NPS rangers have been joined by Mountain Rescue volunteers, Pierce County Explorer volunteers, the Washington State Search and Rescue Planning Unit, search dogs, drones, and helicopter crews from both the National Park Service (NPS) and US Air Force.
Poor weather on Oct. 13 kept air crews grounded, but 19 park rangers and six Mountain Rescue volunteers continued the search on foot.
A distinctive water bottle, believed to belong to Dubal, was found along the trail that afternoon, but did not lead to any further discoveries. In addition, a team from Seattle Mountain Rescue used an aerial drone to explore a hard-to-reach section of old trail along the Carbon River.
The weather cleared up on Oct. 14, allowing a helicopter to join the search with 12 NPS rangers, 15 Mountain Rescue volunteers, and three search dogs provided by Washington Mountain Rescue.
On Oct. 15, a Bell 407 helicopter was used to fly searchers into the field to maximize search time during a window of good weather, and then continued to explore from the air. Eighteen NPS rangers were joined by 14 Mountain Rescue volunteers including a dog team, two drone teams, and a 4×4 team searching private forest lands outside the park boundary. A 10-person team of Pierce County Explorer Search and Rescue (ESAR) volunteers assisted as well.
The weather on Oct. 16 deteriorated, with lowering clouds and winds up to 50 m.p.h. that prevented air operations. Teams also experienced low visibility and driving rain. Ten NPS rangers were joined by nine Mountain Rescue volunteers and two teams from Washington German Shepherd Search Dogs. Members of the Washington State Search and Rescue Planning Unit have provided assistance throughout the week as well. NPS trail crews, meanwhile, worked throughout the day to restore a trail bridge over the lower Carbon River, which washed out in heavy rain early in the week, in order to allow searchers easier access to search zones in that area.
No additional information has been provided for the last several days.
The primary search area has been defined by the 17-mile Mother Mountain Loop trail, with teams increasingly branching off to explore spur trails leading higher on Mount Rainier and river drainages leading off it. The terrain includes rugged, remote wilderness, with dense forests at elevations from 2,000 to 5,000 feet and exposed subalpine meadows blanketed with fresh autumn snowfall above it. Rangers are coordinating the search with the Washington State Emergency Operations Center and other state and local resources, who are providing highly skilled rescuers trained to search in hazardous conditions and poor weather.
The National Park Service encourages hikers to carry the “10 Essentials,” hike with a partner, and leave a detailed itinerary with family or friends.
River crossings can be dangerous or impassible this time of year, and bridges may be washed out without notice. Contact a park Wilderness Information Center and visit the park’s website, www.nps.gov/mora, for more information about hiking safety in Mount Rainier National Park.