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Search for missing snowboarders now likely a recovery

Search resumes for lost snowboarders near Mt. Baker Ski Area

Whatcom County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Jilk and Joe Amancio, talk Friday, Nov. 17, about the search for Amancio's son, Jake Amancio, 22, and Drew Lenz, 20, both of Bellingham, after they didn’t return from snowboarding in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie
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Whatcom County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Jilk and Joe Amancio, talk Friday, Nov. 17, about the search for Amancio's son, Jake Amancio, 22, and Drew Lenz, 20, both of Bellingham, after they didn’t return from snowboarding in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie

A search has been suspended indefinitely for two snowboarders missing for a week in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and the focus now turns to finding the men’s bodies, officials said Monday.

“... We know that given the conditions as time goes on, the likelihood of a positive outcome diminishes,” Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said Monday. “Our volunteers and deputies have endured tough and dangerous conditions and every effort will be made to do our best for the affected families.”

Jake Amancio, 22, and Drew Lenz, 20, both of Bellingham, were reported overdue by a roommate on the afternoon of Nov. 12 when they didn’t return from a planned day of snowboarding in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. A search began at 7 a.m. Nov. 13.

Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Jilk, who coordinates wilderness rescues, said Sunday afternoon that worsening snow and avalanche conditions made continued search operations too dangerous.

“The search is suspended at this time,” Jilk said, adding Monday that “the areas that we have left to search would be a recovery.”

More than a foot of snow fell Sunday in the Mount Baker area, the National Weather Service reported Monday in its morning online forecast discussion. Avalanche danger remains high in the rugged terrain around Heather Meadows, where Lenz’s truck was found in the upper parking lot off Mount Baker Highway, where the road is closed for the season.

“When snow conditions and the weather improves, we will try to get back into some steeper areas we have not been in yet,” Jilk said. “However, that could be a week or more out. Obviously if more information is obtained that limits our search area we will take a look at it. Safety of our searchers is a priority.”

Mt. Baker Ski Area was at normal midweek operations Monday, with the Heather Meadows base area closed, the ski area reported in its daily online snow report. Heather Meadows has a 70-inch base at the at 3,500-foot level, and there was an 88-inch base at Panorama Dome near the 5,000-foot level.

Sheriff’s officials and other teams, including the Border Patrol and several volunteer organizations, have been searching for the two friends as weather permitted last week, Undersheriff Jeff Parks said.

Search areas have focused on the Swift Creek drainage below Artist Point, and areas west of Heather Meadows, including Table Mountain, Herman Saddle and Mazama Dome, officials said.

Friends and family of the missing men with seasoned backcountry experience have been searching independently since last week, as conditions allow.

“Yes the family is staying at Mt. Baker,” Amancio’s cousin Will Welch said in an email from Chilliwack, B.C. “And hopes are still high. And the search continues daily.

Everything is weather depending. Helicopters are on standby. All I can say for people who want to help is continue to be supportive to the families any way they can.”

A gofundme campaign for private search-related expenses had raised $30,276 of a $50,000 goal by Monday evening.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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