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Glacier National Park Scales Back Search Effort For Missing Hiker

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Date: September 2, 2008
Contact: Norma Sosa, 406 888-7895

WEST GLACIER, MONT. – Officials at Glacier National Park said today that no clues about the whereabouts or condition of a hiker reported missing in the Park’s backcountry last month had turned up in searches that continued over the weekend. They said that pending the emergence or discovery of information that might explain the hiker’s disappearance, the search and rescue operation launched nearly two weeks ago would be significantly reduced.

“Reluctantly, after more than 2,500 hours of searching in difficult terrain and challenging conditions, the time has come to acknowledge that we are unlikely to solve this mystery without additional information,” the Park’s superintendent, Chas Cartwright, said. “We are disappointed that our efforts have not succeeded in explaining what has become of this enthusiastic young outdoorsman, especially for the sake of his family.”

Beginning on August 20th, the day after Yi-Jien Hwa, 27, was reported missing by his family, the Park sent teams of hikers and professional alpine searchers into the most forbidding areas of its backcountry to look for him or for evidence that he had passed through areas he planned to hike. Mr. Hwa, a native of Malaysia, had drawn up an itinerary for himself and his wife that encompassed nearly 100 miles of hikes as well as climbs and descents of more than 14,000 feet. His wife did not accompany him because of a family emergency.

Each day, between 30 and 60 searchers were shuttled in and out of remote areas by helicopter. The searches included use of human-scent dog teams and of horse-mounted patrols. The search operation also had access to aerial heat-sensing equipment.

Hikers and mountaineers searched through some of northwestern Montana’s most forbidding terrain as fall weather arrived early. The search area encompasses lakes, extensive cliff bands, glaciers, glacial melt ponds, crevasses, ice and snow bridges, forests, and shaded areas near ridges. Fresh snowfall, rain, fog, and high-winds made search operations and footing especially difficult in this diverse terrain.

Agencies that helped to plan the searches or contributed search personnel included the Flathead County and Glacier County sheriff’s departments, the US Border Patrol, and the US Forest Service. The Federal Bureau of Investigation helped to follow up on information received from the public by the National Park Service.

“We have not ceased to hope that we will receive or discover information that will help us to find Mr. Hwa or to find out what happened to him,” the operation’s Incident Commander, Patrick Suddath, said today. “We simply had to make the decision that committing the resources at the level we have committed them over the past two weeks could not continue based on the information we had to go on.”

Over the weekend, one or two teams of searchers continued to scour locations adjacent to areas that were identified as most likely to have been hiked by Mr. Hwa, assuming that he had followed his plan as outlined in his backcountry permit. Human-scent dog teams also were used. No new clues turned up in those efforts. In a meeting today, the search’s managers decided to discontinue regular searches.

Suddath described a continuing operation that represents a vastly reduced effort compared to searches that have been mounted to date. He said he would retain overall responsibility for analyzing any new information and determining how to respond, including whether to send out searchers. He said he would not hesitate to order searches when warranted by such information.

Suddath asks that anyone who has seen Mr. Hwa or who has information that might help to locate him call Glacier National Park at 406-888-7801. He said investigators will follow up on information they receive from Park personnel who regularly hike areas in Mr. Hwa’s itinerary.

In addition, fresh posters with Mr. Hwa’s picture and description seeking information will be put up in campgrounds and visitor centers, at trailheads, and elsewhere in the Park this week.

 

 

 

 

- NPS -

Did You Know?

Jackson Glacier

If current trends continue, some scientists predict that by the year 2030, Glacier National Park will not contain any glaciers and many of the park's smaller glaciers will melt even sooner.