(Update: Lane County Sheriff's Office SAR finds Joel Tranby's body; recovery efforts challenging)
Recovery effort poses challenges due to loose, steep and rocky terrain"
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Using drone video as a guide, Lane County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue personnel flying over the North Sister Thursday located the body of a 21-year-old Bend man who fell several hundred feet to his death while climbing the peak earlier this week, but recovery efforts will prove challenging.
SAR personnel in a helicopter were able to observe the remains of Joel Tranby, who suffered the fall near the 10,085-foot peak’s summit early Monday afternoon.
“However, extremely loose and steep rocky terrain rendered reaching him on foot impossible,” Public Information Officer Sgt. Tom Speldrich said Thursday.
Lane County SAR personnel “are consulting expert climbers from a number of courses to determine if a recovery mission can be safely conducted,” he said, adding: “We are saddened by the loss of life and extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.”
Tranby’s grieving parents said Tuesday they were “devastated by the loss” of their son, who was due to graduate from OSU-Cascades in December with a bachelor's degree in business administration.
Friends and family remembered Tranby as an outdoor-lover and a big part of the community.
Tranby helped coach Mountain View High School’s Nordic Ski Team after being part of the team for four years.
"He's just one of the most amazing kids I've met, for all the years I've been coaching," Eric Martin, head coach of the Mountain View Nordic Ski Team, said Wednesday.
"He was managing Chick-Fil-A, going to college full-time, and yet he'd still come to those wax parties and set everything up, take everything down and come to the Saturday practice on his day off," Martin recalled.
Lane County SAR received the report of an injured climber near the North Sister summit around 12:20 p.m. on Monday, Speldrich said Wednesday.
The caller said her boyfriend had fallen about 300 to 500 feet down the slope and was severely injured, Speldrich said. She was unable to see where he’d fallen or reach him, due to the extremely steep and rocky terrain.
A Lane County Sheriff’s Office SAR coordinator and a Mountain Rescue volunteer arrived on scene in a LifeFlight Network helicopter and immediately began searching for Tranby, who Speldrich said “is believed to have fallen into a very step ravine that is made up of extremely unstable large boulders.”
“Unfortunately, he stopped responding verbally before searchers arrived,” the sergeant said.
The search team and an Oregon National Guard Blackhawk helicopter crew were unable to locate him, Speldrich said, adding that “this area is extremely dangerous and inaccessible to searchers by foot.”
Other teams from Lane County SAR, Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Mountain Rescue and an Air Link helicopter also helped in the search.
The search resumed Tuesday, with the Civil Air Patrol using a high-resolution camera and a ground team made up of volunteers with the Corvallis and Eugene mountain rescue organizations. Speldrich said they used a small drone to further search the area where Tranby was believed to have fallen.
“No new clues were located,” the sergeant said Wednesday. “However, searchers will closely analyze the high-resolution photographs utilizing specialized software to attempt to detect possible clues.”
Tranby’s mother, April, kept family and friends abreast of the search efforts in a series of Facebook posts Monday and Tuesday.
She first noted that her son and his girlfriend, Fiona Curley, had gone to climb the 10,085-foot peak and that he fell about 300 feet around noon Monday, then fell again, an unknown distance, around 2 p.m.
“He was able to talk after (the) first fall, but very badly injured,” she wrote. “We have no contact with him after (the) second fall.”
Deschutes and Lane County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue units took part in the extensive search efforts, including a plane, drones and Civil Air Patrol aircraft. Tranby said there were GPS locator signals that pinged Monday night, possibly in the area where her son fell a second time.
Tuesday evening, Tranby said no new clues had come from the plane or drones, though there was extensive footage to be reviewed Wednesday.
“They are moving from rescue to recovery phase,” she wrote.
April Tranby and husband David shared this statement Tuesday night with NewsChannel 21:
"Our family is devastated by the loss of Joel. We are thankful for the efforts of Lane and Deschutes County SARs, Civil Air Patrol, law enforcement, friends and family both local and around the world, and Foundry Church for supporting us and seeking to bring Joel home.
"Joel was doing something he loved, with the person he loved, in the outdoors and we know that brought him joy.
"Joel loved God and put his faith in Him. We are now trusting God for comfort in the days ahead. We continue to pray that his body will be found and ask for privacy at this time so we can heal as a family."
Three years ago, NewsChannel 21's Jordan Williams profiled the musical “Tranby Troupe,” including Joel, then a senior at Mountain View, who played the violin.
Tranby's LinkedIn profile shows he'd started work at Costco in May as a part-time food service assistant. He previously had worked in recent years as a manager at Bend's Chick-fil-A "and loved it there," a friend said.