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Overnight search locates lost hiker W. of Bend


A Walnut Creek, Calif. man was found safe and sound early Friday morning, more than 10 hours after he was reported lost while on a hikeThursday afternoon in the woods west of Bend, prompting an extensive search.

Deschutes County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue teams worked for several hours into the darkness late Thursday and early Fridayto try to find47-year-old Francis Fitzgerald, reported lost near Horse Lake, about 30 miles west of Bend.

Deputies said the 911 cellphone call came in around 3 p.m. from the mans wife, Monica Fitzgerald, who said he had gotten separated from his family on a day hike on what they believed was the Pacific Crest Trail, said sheriff’s Deputy Jim Whitcomb, assistant SAR coordinator.

Searchers saidFitzgerald was not prepared to spend the night but was not injured.

His wife said she and two other hikers decided to turn around on the trail after about four miles, but her husband wanted to continue for about 10 minutes, believing he then would be able to see Horse Lake, Whitcomb said.

But after about 10 minutes, Fitzgerald called his wife to report he was lost, so she called Deschutes County 911. She said her husband was going to turn off his cellphone to conserve the battery and periodically turn it back on in hopes of helping searchers find him.

Monica Fitzgerald and the others then hiked back to the Elk Lake Trailhead, where a sheriff’s office forest patrol deputy contacted her and more details were obtained. Whitcomb said attempts to call or test Francis Fitzgerald’s phone were unsuccessful.

Sheriff’s SAR personnel were dispatched to begin searching. The group consisted of 16 members in six teams, including two tracking teams and three ground search teams. Others managed the search from SAR headquarters in Bend, Whitcomb said.

An AirLink helicopter was called in to help in the search, but as night fell, it had to return to Bend.

SAR teamswere able to find a single set of footprints on thePacific Crest Trail that they believed belonged to Fitzgerald. The footprints led trackers through 2-5 foot snowdrifts and downed trees. A ground team was sent ahead, in the trackers’ direction.

Just after 1:15 a.m. Friday, the ground team located Fitzgerald, about 5.3 miles northwest of the trailhead, escorted him out of the area and back down to safety. He was reunited with his wife at the trailhead around 3:45 a.m.

While it’s Search and Rescue’s job to help when needed, officials say it’s important for them to be safe as well.

In fact, a rescuer fell to his death earlier this month saving a man on Mt. Rainier.

“Think about if you’re in an emergency and you’re putting yourself at risk, those that are coming to find you, search and rescue, and they’re putting themselves at risk,” Scotty McBride of the Ft. Rock Ranger District said Friday afternoon.

Officials say while you enjoy the holiday weekend, be smart about and stay safe.

“Central Oregon and this area draws a lot of people,” said McBride. “It’s beautiful, it lures people to the highest peaks, and places that are remote and that you can quickly get confused, if you don’t know where you’re at.”

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