Olympic National Park lacks search protocols

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — Olympic National Park, which had more than 3 million visitors last year, does not have written procedures for searches for people reported missing in the park.

“Olympic National Park does not have park-specific written guidelines or policy related to missing persons so uses the National Park Service policy,” ONP Acting Superintendent Lee Taylor wrote to the Peninsula Daily News in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

She referred the PDN to the National Park Service Search and Rescue Reference Manual, which states that “every park unit with a SAR [search and rescue] Program will prepare a park SAR Plan approved by the superintendent.”

Acting Assistant Superintendent Brian Winter said Thursday he does not know why Olympic National Park does not have a park SAR plan. Winter said he would investigate.

He said ONP has a SAR program and that it maintains SAR equipment but doesn’t have specific procedures for SAR in the park.

The 82-page National Park Service Search and Rescue Reference Manual does not mention missing persons, though it says the initial report of an overdue hiker may only warrant an evaluation using a search urgency chart and that no other action may be needed until more time passes.

Among Olympic National Park’s most recent missing hikers is Jacob Gray, a 22-year-old whose bicycle and camping equipment were found on the side of Sol Duc Hot Springs Road on April 6.

Gray left Port Townsend the day before and hasn’t been seen since.

Rangers performed a hasty search — a quick reconnaissance of the area — April 6 and 7, and found no trace of Jacob.

Olympic Mountain Rescue joined the search on the afternoon of April 11.

The park had moved to a “limited continuous search” on April 14, meaning the park is no longer actively looking for Gray.

Clallam County Search and Rescue led a search with about 30 people and scent and cadaver dogs April 15 but did not find Gray.

Gray’s father, Randy Gray, continued to search the area around the Sol Duc River after the park scaled back its efforts.

Randy, who recently returned to his home in Santa Cruz, Calif., said he was shocked to find ONP did not have a written procedure that would help rangers find his son.

“It’s shocking that such a big place doesn’t have protocol to do search and rescue,” he said Friday. “I don’t want anybody else to go through what we’re going through right now.”

He called it irresponsible for the park, which reported an estimated 3,390,221 visits in 2016, to not have a written search and rescue plan.

Randy’s son is not the first to disappear inside Olympic National Park.

Most recently is Zach Krull, 20, who was reported missing April 10 to the Mason County Sheriff’s Office after he was overdue from a camping trip near Staircase Campground. Searchers found tracks heading into an area hit by an avalanche.

Krull’s family told the PDN that Mason County Sheriff’s Office, Olympic Mountain rescue and Mason, Thurston and Pierce County Search and Rescue units did everything they could to find Krull.

Some 70 searchers, tracking dogs and helicopters combed the hills around Lake Cushman in an effort to find Krull. The search was scaled back about a week after he was reported missing; searchers said they found tracks leading to an area that had been hit by an avalanche.

Bryan Lee Johnston disappeared in 2013. His truck was found parked at the Ozette trailhead.

According to PDN archives, at least three other people — John Devine of Sequim, Gilbert Gilman of Olympia and Stefan Bissert, a German exchange student — have disappeared in Olympic National Park in the past 30 years.

Each national park is required to perform a SAR Needs Assessment every five years, which is used to identify current and projected needs.

The assessment details visitation, resources, visitor activities that produce SAR incidents and SAR staffing levels. It should also detail the average number of each type of SAR incident per year, normally successful SAR methods and lessons learned from SAR incidents.

After the needs assessment, parks are required to prepare a SAR Plan, according to the NPS Search and Rescue Reference Manual.

The park SAR plan addresses the day-to-day activities of the park SAR program, according to the manual.

The manual says the park superintendent shall designate staff for responding to SAR information requests but doesn’t say the park needs to notify the media or public when someone is reported missing.

The park sent a notification to news media that Jacob Gray was missing April 11, five days after Gray’s bike was found and a day after the PDN reported that he was missing.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].

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