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Family of missing hiker speaks out

Posted: May 27, 2014 - 11:05pm
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Juneau Mountain Rescue member James Dooley holds a map of the search area after a morning briefing at TEMSCO on Tuesday. Searchers are looking for 48-year-old Juneau resident Sharon Buis, believed to be missing in the Mount Roberts area since Friday.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Juneau Mountain Rescue member James Dooley holds a map of the search area after a morning briefing at TEMSCO on Tuesday. Searchers are looking for 48-year-old Juneau resident Sharon Buis, believed to be missing in the Mount Roberts area since Friday.

When Sharon Buis’ family heard she was missing, they didn’t really think anything of it. The 48-year-old is always outside doing adventurous activities, whether it’s kayaking in Juneau, bicycling across Canada or ice camping in Greenland.

“She kayaks, she cycles,” Brenda Buis, Sharon’s sister-in-law, told the Empire on Tuesday, adding that Sharon once biked all the way from Alaska to her hometown of Aylmer, Ontario. “We just thought she was off doing her thing.”

The reality that Sharon — an experienced hiker — may be lost, injured or worse in Juneau’s rugged backcountry sunk in when they heard the news that her car, found Saturday night at the Mount Roberts Trailhead on Basin Road, had been abandoned for hours. Now, it’s been days.

Alaska State Troopers, who are coordinating the search, believe Sharon went missing while hiking sometime after Friday morning. There’s been no sign of her since, despite throngs of searchers who have scoured the Mount Juneau trail system since Sunday.

“Alarms started going off for us, especially I think when the troopers got involved, we all kind of went to my mother-in-law’s,” Brenda said in a phone interview.

She added, “There isn’t anything we can do. That’s the hardest thing for us, the waiting and the not knowing.”

While the local search and rescue community — members of the Juneau Mountain Rescue, SouthEast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search, the Alpine Club, and many of her friends — search for Sharon, her family is hunkered down at the family farm in Aylmer.

Sharon grew up on the farm, which has beef cattle, dairy cattle, hogs and cash crops, and is the youngest of seven children. She spent time in California before moving to Juneau 10 years ago. She’s been a physical therapist at Juneau Physical Therapy since 2005.

The family is very religious and has been praying for her safe recovery, Brenda said.

“Nellie obviously is taking it very hard,” Brenda said, referring to Sharon’s 80-year-old mother, Nellie Buis. “This is her daughter, her youngest daughter.”

Sharon’s mother expressed gratitude for the search party looking for Sharon through a statement from Brenda.

“She said there are no words for my gratefulness for what (searchers) are doing,” Brenda read over the phone. “It is fantastic how they are keeping us informed. We just can’t believe all they are doing for Sharon. We love Sharon here, and we know she wouldn’t just give up, and we’re all praying down here for a safe recovery.”

Sharon’s sister Nancy also asked the Empire to thank searchers.

“It is very difficult, but more so being so far away and unable to do anything,” she wrote in an email to the Empire. “Please convey our deep thanks to all those who are helping out in any way. Words cannot express our thanks for all efforts being made to locate Sharon.”

Brenda and her husband Jim, who is one of Sharon’s five brothers, are planning to travel to Juneau on Wednesday. She said they want to represent their family and plan on being at the command post the troopers have set up at the Mount Roberts tramway.

The search on Tuesday concluded around 8 p.m. without any luck, Trooper Tim Birt told the Empire. Searchers will resume work Wednesday morning.

“We don’t really have any new leads to follow,” he said.

Birt expects Wednesday’s search to be less intensive than it has been for the past few days. Ground searchers have covered, and re-covered, much of the trail system surrounding Mount Roberts, he said.

They’ve also done aerial searches by helicopter. Monday marked the last day of that, he said.

“I think we’ve exhausted the areas that can be effective by helicopter,” he said, listing exposed rock faces, snow fields, ravines and snow bridges. “We’ve covered those areas on Sunday and then we went back on Monday and covered them again. We’re just not coming up with any clues or any new areas to be searched.”

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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