More than 100 searchers, many of them volunteers, worked long hours from the ground and the air late Sunday and Monday to find a 21-year-old Bend skier lost on the slopes of Mt. Bachelor.
But it was a Bend man out on a morning “fatbike” ride who first spotted and followed the ski tracks, then footprints that led to his rescue, officials confirmed.
Ron Thompson said he caught the story of the search for Ryan Melrose DeYoung over coffee on NewsChannel 21 at Sunrise before heading out to bike in the backcountry, as he’s done so many times.
After Thompson called in his discovery, a helicopter from leading Edge Aviation was assigned to check the area and spotted DeYoung from the air around 11 a.m., about 1 ½ miles east of the Sunrise Lodge, said sheriff’s Capt. Shane Nelson.
"We were hovering in the area, and I think he knew by then he was found," said pilot Logan Harris. "He kind of collapsed on the ground, just out of relief, then got up and walked back up to the open area."
A nearby SAR team provided medical aid to DeYoung, who appeared to be in good health except for some “minor weather exposure-related injuries,” Nelson said. A Sunriver Fire ambulance crew took him to St. Charles Bend for evaluation.
"He knew he was found, so he seemed to be in good health and spirits," said SAR Volunteer Steve McBurnett. "It's a good feeling. Worth coming out in the middle of the night."
DeYoung did not have any food or water with him when he went missing and apparently continued walking at times through the night, waving his arms at a helicopter when it flew overhead, Nelson said.
Sgt. Scott Shelton, SAR coordinator, said it was indeed fortunate that Thompson spotted the ski tracks in a spot “significantly outside our original search area.”
Thompson said, “I don’t want to take anything away from the hard work of all the Search and Rescue folks.” But as it turned out, he said, “If I had not been having a coffee and watching the morning news and saw the story of the missing man, it would not have happened” as it did. “They would have found him,” he added, but it might have taken a lot longer.
“It was the ski tracks that caught my attention,” Thompson told NewsChannel 21.
Thompson said a Mt. Bachelor employee left by snowmobile after they found the tracks he'd previously seen.
"I followed the ski tracks on foot, until he (DeYoung) ran out of the snow, took his skis off, then he hiked back up -- and then it was footprints, at which point we were pretty bummed,” he said.
“However, if he’d set out walking on the ground, he wouldn’t have left any tracks to follow – so he could have been anywhere out there,” said Thompson, who added that he's nearly 66 and spends “all my time in the backcountry doing stuff. I’m observant about things.”
“The more I think about those tracks – they weren’t somebody out there touring around in that area. It was somebody lost. … Once he started walking in his ski boots, he was all over the place. It really sucked trying to track him.”
Tune into NewsChannel 21 First at Ten on Fox and Eleven on NBC to hear Femi Abebefe’s interview with Thompson, and with DeYoung’s tired, relieved father, plus an update on the young man’s condition.
SAR volunteer Dave Long said of the rescue: "I think it was probably euphoric -- for us and for him."
Another SAR volunteer, Stan Keifer, said they were worried DeYoung could be seriously injured.
"Miraculously, he made it very well," Kiefer said. "He was in really good health, considering he spent the whole night. He did admit that he was quite cold, and I noticed his hands and feet were shaking."
"He was waving to us, he was really excited he was found and was done being out in the snow." said SAR volunteer Ashley Hashemian, who was on her very first rescue mission, having graduated from the SAR program only last Thursday.
"It was a really amazing first experience to know that I helped in such a direct way," said Hashemian, who snowshoed for the first time during the mission.
"It's incredibly rewarding," she said. "It was really cool to get to meet (DeYoung) as a person and get to interact with him."
Thompson said DeYoung slept in a tree well near the Mt. Bachelor "rescue road," then walked downhill (to the north) in the morning and was resting in another tree well when he was found, coming out into the open when he heard the helicopter.
Other agencies involved in the search included the Benton, Jefferson and Lane County sheriff’s SAR teams, Portland Mountain Rescue, Mt. Bachelor Inc. and the U.S. Forest Service. Four helicopter crews helped in the search over the two days – two from Leading Edge, as well as Air Link and the Oregon National Guard.
"We've been up here at Mt. Bachelor and other places for some extended searches before but so far this year, this is the biggest thing we've had going," said Deschutes County Sheriff Larry Blanton.
Authorities said DeYoung failed to return home from a Sunday skiing trip on Mt. Bachelor and was believed to have skied beyond the resort's boundaries.
More than a dozen sheriff's Search and Rescue teams were deployed Monday morning across a wide area, including the 9,068-foot summit of the mountain, where temperatures plunged to the 20s overnight after a warm and sunny Mother's Day of skiing on recent fresh powder.
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office brought its "quads" (tracked ATVs) to help cover more of the challenging terrain.
Mt. Bachelor Ski Patrol contacted Deschutes County sheriff's dispatchers around 1:25 p.m. Sunday, seeking the assistance of Search and Rescue to find a missing skier, said sheriff's Lt. Chad Davis.
Ski patrollers had found ski tracks that went through the east "catch line," one of the boundaries of the ski area. They were unable to find the skier who made the tracks.
The ski patrol later spoke with the father of DeYoung and learned he was missing and may be associated with the tracks, Davis said.
Deputies said DeYoung had bought a ski pass for the day and it was last used around 9:10 a.m. Sunday at a turnstile on the mountain.
The SAR unit set up its incident command trailer in the parking lot near the ski resort's administration building, as teams checked ski area boundaries and nearby sno-parks and trails around the mountain, on a day that fortunately brought sunny skies and temperatures on the slopes rising above freezing in the afternoon.
To make things more challenging for SAR and deputies, another search took place Sunday night for a group that set out from Paulina Lake Lodge and failed to return home. They were found late Sunday night in the China Hat area south of Bend, where their vehicle had broken down, Davis said.