Friends and family of two snowboarders missing since Sunday in the Mount Baker wilderness were searching on their own Thursday, after official rescue operations were suspended amid heavy snowfall and avalanche concerns.
Jake Amancio, 22, and Drew Lenz, 20, both of Bellingham, were reported overdue by a roommate Sunday afternoon when they didn’t return from a planned day of snowboarding in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Please join our search. These boys would do the same for anyone else in need.
Lisa Correll Amancio, mother of missing young man
“Everybody’s guessing at what they could’ve done,” said Will Welch of Chilliwack, B.C., cousin of one of the missing men. “You just gotta hope for the best. People want these kids home.”
Mt. Baker Ski Area workers found the men’s vehicle at the Heather Meadows parking lot and a search began at 7 a.m. Monday, amid blizzard-like conditions that persisted through Wednesday. Teams of some 30 people included Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office rescue personnel, Border Patrol rescue teams, and trained search and rescue volunteers.
Whatcom County Undersheriff Jeff Parks said that on Friday morning a search team will assess the snow-covered slopes that haven’t been searched because of avalanche concerns. Several feet of snow has fallen this week on the slopes near Heather Meadows.
“If our volunteers are comfortable with snow conditions we will continue with the search Friday, or possibly Saturday,” Parks said. “The search suspension was in the interest of safety for our volunteers and search and rescue personnel. Higher level locations were deemed to be hazardous due to very heavy initial snowfall for the beginning of the season in this area.”
Snow has lessened but avalanche danger remained high Thursday, said Dennis D’Amico, a meteorologist with the Northwest Avalanche Center. Forecast for Friday and Saturday is for mostly cloudy skies with a chance of showers.
Avalanche danger should ease daily but a new storm is looming on Sunday, promising a week of rain and snow in the mountains, D’Amico said.
Welch said he spent Wednesday with a group of about 40 volunteers slogging through rain and snow, scouring the steep slopes of the Swift Creek drainage below Artist Point. SAR personnel also checked that area Monday and Tuesday.
“We were looking for any sign of anything, even a disturbance in the snow,” Welch said.
Friends and family have turned to social media and word of mouth for help as official search efforts halted at least temporarily Wednesday evening.
Dylan Glaser, a cousin of Lenz, said in an email that the family welcomes volunteer help, but he urged people to stay out of the wilderness unless they’re experienced and prepared for adverse conditions.
“I don’t want people going into the backcountry if they do not have proper avalanche safety, proper equipment (and knowledge of how to use it), and experience with navigation and decision making in the backcountry. Avalanche danger is high right now, the last thing you need in rescue is more victims,” Glaser said.
Lisa Correll Amancio of San Diego, Jake’s mother, appealed for help with several public Facebook posts Wednesday and Thursday.
“Calling all snowboarders and skiers headed up to Mt. Baker (Ski Area) opening day (Thursday)!!!” she posted. “Please join our search. These boys would do the same for anyone else in need.”
According to one Facebook post, Jake Amancio is 5-foot-11 and 150 pounds with black hair. He was wearing a gray and brown ski jacket and camouflage pants. Lenz was described as 6-foot-1 and 155 pounds with brown hair. He was wearing light blue ski jacket, brown pants and a black/red beanie hat. Both men are light-skinned.
A gofundme page was started to help pay for search-related expenses. By 5 p.m. Thursday, it had raised $11,285 of a $25,000 goal.
Jake’s mother said Thursday via Facebook Messenger that some volunteers were searching and others were distributing fliers to snow-sports enthusiasts at the Ski Area. She doesn’t think the men traveled far from the parking lot.
“Last ping from Drew’s cell was 5 p.m., 200 meters from lodge,” she said. “He is the videographer of his group, who do on-slope jumping and tricks. He’s not the wild kind. Though he is smart and was prepared.”
Parks said early search efforts concentrated in the Swift Creek drainage south from Artist Point, past the unplowed section of Mount Baker Highway. Other areas of focus include Table Mountain, Herman Saddle and Mazama Bowl above a trail that starts from the Heather Meadows parking lot.
Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Jilk, who coordinates wilderness rescues, said Wednesday that crews still want to search upper elevations of those areas after avalanche conditions decrease.
Officials at Mt. Baker Ski Area, which opened for the season Thursday, said Amancio and Lenz were not believed to have entered the ski area boundaries. Employees preparing for the season have searched its slopes and are staying alert for signs of the two men, said Gwyn Howat, executive vice president of Mt. Baker Ski Area.