Search, hope for Portland boy all but over
October 21, 2006
By MATTHEW PREUSCH
Ground crews give up the hunt for Samuel Boehlke, 8, after a week of desperate efforts
CRATER LAKE — As workers took down tents and packed up gear at a base camp on the north rim of Crater Lake, Pete Reinhardt leaned over the hood of a Dodge SUV and spread out a large map.
On it were criss-crossed grids of multi-colored lines drawn over nearby woods and cliffs, signifying areas where nearly 200 people searched for 8-year-old Samuel Boehlke of Portland, who vanished in Crater Lake National Park a week ago today.
“I just can’t imagine where this kid disappeared to,” said Reinhardt, operations supervisor for the search, shaking his head.
Friday was the last day of regular ground patrols in the area where Sammy went missing while visiting the national park with his father, Ken Boehlke.
Though a helicopter will still scan the area in good weather, the National Park Service’s hunt for Sammy is effectively over, leaving only lingering uncertainty for the family and disappointment among the searchers.
“Once the snow comes, there’s not much more we can do,” Reinhardt said. Winter usually arrives at the lake, elevation 6,200 feet, in November, bringing an average of 45 feet of snow.
He’s at a loss to explain how the boy could have slipped detection during the 61/2 days that crews from Oregon, Washington and California converged at Crater Lake in one of the largest searches in the park’s 104-year history.
“We utilized almost all possible modes of search,” Reinhardt said. “We had foot traffic, we had horseback riding, we had aerial support, we had boats, we had technical climbers.”
Searchers were hampered by foul weather, facing rain Sunday, then snow Monday in the 50-square-mile-search area in the northeast part of the park.
Weather was intermittently overcast and rainy the remainder of the week, with nighttime temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s. The sun finally came out Friday at the park, bringing temperatures in the 60s.
But there was little hope that Sammy could have survived after so many days of exposure to the elements.
“We are all disappointed that our intensive search efforts over the past six days have not located Samuel,” said Chief Ranger Dave Brennan. “Our sympathies go out to Samuel’s family.”
Also complicating the search was the boy’s low-level autism. Sammy was afraid of loud noises, according to his family, so searchers didn’t use air horns, whistles or other standard search tools.
He also was fond of hide-and-seek games, and searchers believe he ran away from his father after the pair stopped at a pullout near Cleetwood Cove because he wanted to play a game. The boy also liked small spaces, so searchers focused on places such as caves and rock overhangs.
His family remained out of the public eye Friday, though members have made repeated trips to the base camp to confer with searchers from where they’ve been staying at the park.
But they released a statement saying Sammy likes Legos, pirates, dragons, root beer and corn dogs. They also thanked searchers “for their incredible conduct, kindness and superb efforts on behalf of our families. We appreciate the sacrifice their families are making for them to be here.” The family also encouraged others to learn more about autism.
Experts recommend that kids and their parents carry whistles whenever they go into the woods to help locate each other, though that probably wouldn’t have helped in Sammy’s case, given the boy’s aversion to loud noises.
Parents should also teach their kids to find a sheltered place and wait for rescue if they become lost, said Mac Brock, spokesman for the park.
“I tell my kids to stay put, hug a tree and blow their whistles,” said Brock, who has two children, including an 8-year-old-son.
The inconclusive search drew some parallels to the hunt in October 1991 for Glen Mackie, 33, of Brea, Calif., whose car was found abandoned in the park’s Rim Village parking area.
“And he was never found,” Brock said.
Matthew Preusch: 541-382-2006; firstname.lastname@example.org