• Search for John has Happy Outcome - 1998
Sometime during the day on Tuesday, September 1, 1998, John of Sacramento left his comfortable suburban home to visit family in Cameron Park and drove off into oblivion. John, a 71-year-old retiree from the aerospace industry, disappeared on that day without leaving a trace as to his whereabouts. Alarmed family members quickly reported him missing to local authorities. There was concern that John might be suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and that he may have become disoriented, lost, or injured.
The first break in the mystery of John's whereabouts came on the morning of Friday, September 4, when his car was located at a trail head along the South Fork of Silver Creek, approximately 1-1/2 miles south of Ice House/Wright's Lake connector road and 100 yards west of Wright's Lake Road.
Search and Rescue Incident Commander Deputy Todd Crawford arrived on the scene with USFS personnel to assess the situation and begin a hasty search of the immediate area. The County OES was activated with Sergeant Marty Hackett overseeing operations and logistics from that location. A full callout was initiated at 2:15 p.m. for all available El Dorado Sheriff's Search and Rescue volunteers.
At approximately 5:00 p.m., the communications van arrived on scene and a Command Post was established along a side road between Wright's Lake Road and John's vehicle. Under the guidance of senior member Frank Munoz, Search Management Team members Mike Zabiegalski, Jim Wassner, Collette Wheeler, John Glenn and Carolyn Matoba deployed teams of searchers as they arrived on scene into areas identified by USFS and Sheriff's hasty searchers as containing possible clues.
The first SAR teams into the field were Foot Team members Doug Walker and Scott Davies, and a Canine Team consisting of Hatch Graham and Wanda Meyers. They quickly followed up footprint clues discovered by USFS hasty searchers along trail 11N45 just south of the access road to Bloodsucker Lake. This was approximately one mile NNE of John's abandoned car (and Command Post).
As night settled in, the previously located clues appeared to vanish, as had John. Sergeant Bob Johnston joined Deputy Crawford at Command Post overseeing search efforts throughout the night. 4-Wheel -Drive Team units were deployed for overnight containment and road patrol. Another dog team consisting of EDSO SAR/CARDA members Cathy Ciofalo and Cassandra Draxler arrived and were sent to John's car in an effort to establish a scent trail. They were successful in tracking Johns' scent due west from the car until after midnight when the dogs seemed no longer sure of the direction in which to go.
Non-containment searchers were called in to Command Post to get a few hours rest overnight while the Management Team called for mutual aid and planned for the next day's search activities. At 5:00 a.m. on September 5, assignments were assembled as volunteers from four outside counties (Placer, Amador, Sacramento and Marin) began arriving to join in the search for John. Sheriff Hal Barker arrived early and stayed through the day to oversee operations and coordinate with mutual aid representatives.
After an early morning group briefing by Sergeant Johnston and Deputy Bill Wilson, 80+ personnel were deployed into the field to search for clues. It was apparent that time was running out for John who had already spent up to three nights out in the forest ill-prepared for the elements. In contrast to the 100-degree days in the valley, the search area was at a cool 6800 feet elevation and heavy rains were predicted for the Sierra by Saturday night.
Foot searchers, Dog teams, 4WD, motorcycle and quadrunner units, Mounted teams, and two helicopters all came together in a group effort to find John before the situation turned tragic.
The initial Management Team and Sergeant Johnston were relieved at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 5, after 20 straight hours working Command Post. Detective Steve Hill and assistants Sotelo and Nicola Elliott of Sacramento County Sheriffs Office, Missing Persons Division, who had filled critical support functions for the management team since the outset, were also relieved to go home and get some sleep.
One of the numerous teams sent in to the field to search on Saturday consisted of WOOF Dog Team member Theresa Ortenburger and Placer County SAR member Brian Casebolt, designated Team 18. At 4:15 p.m., a call came in from Team 18 that John had been located approximately a mile and a half north of his car, lying in the brush, asleep. He was suffering from mild hypothermia and dehydration. John had been wearing light summer clothes; no jacket or rain gear. He was just thirty yards off Wright's Lake Road when he was found.
When asked why he came up to the high Sierra's, John replied, "Because I'm getting old." With John located, given medical treatment, and evacuated off the hill by CHP helicopter H20, the skies opened up and it began to rain.
The EDSO SAR members who responded to the search displayed exemplary dedication and professionalism. Thanks to their group effort, John is well on the road to recovery and has been reunited with his grateful family.
SAR 403, Mike Z