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Update: Troopers call off search for missing hiker

No new leads in search for Juneau resident Sharon Buis

Posted: May 29, 2014 - 3:03pm  |  Updated: May 30, 2014 - 12:07am
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This image provided to the Empire by the Buis family, shows missing Juneau hiker Sharon Buis, right, posing for a picture with her sister, Nancy, left, and mother, Nellie, during a recent trip home to Aylmer, Ontario. The family says they have not given up hope Buis, a 48-year-old physical therapist, will be found alive.  Courtesy photo from the Buis family
Courtesy photo from the Buis family
This image provided to the Empire by the Buis family, shows missing Juneau hiker Sharon Buis, right, posing for a picture with her sister, Nancy, left, and mother, Nellie, during a recent trip home to Aylmer, Ontario. The family says they have not given up hope Buis, a 48-year-old physical therapist, will be found alive.

Alaska State Troopers have called off the search for missing hiker Sharon Buis.

Troopers made the announcement in an online dispatch at 4 p.m. Thursday, the seventh day Buis was presumed missing on Mount Roberts.

"Despite the best efforts of searchers, no new leads have been found since discovering Buis' vehicle on 5/24/2014," the dispatch reads.

Troopers say Buis' family has been notified. Two members of her family traveled to Juneau on Wednesday from Aylmer, Ontario, Buis' hometown.

The case will remain open as a missing persons case until she is located, troopers said.
Troopers ask that if members of the public have information about her whereabouts to please contact law enforcement.

The agency thanked the volunteer-based search groups in Juneau that have been searching for Buis, 48, since Sunday morning.

••• Original story below •••

Frustration grows on fifth day of search for missing hiker

Renee Holmes spent the first two days “crying at the drop of a hat” after learning her friend Sharon Buis was missing. Tears turned to anger during the next two days, as Holmes asked herself over and over, “Why did she take off without telling anyone?”

Now — the seventh day Buis is presumed missing — Holmes is just plain worried.

“We just got to find her,” she told the Empire urgently. “We just got to.”

Frustration levels are growing by the day for those who know Buis, an experienced hiker who was reported missing when her car was located at the Mount Roberts trailhead on Saturday night. Searchers are frustrated, too.

“There’s been a lot of effort that’s gone into it, and there’s been no new leads,” Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Tim Birt said, adding, “We’re all emotionally involved in it.”

Juneau’s local search and rescue community — Juneau Mountain Rescue, Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search, U.S. Coast Guard, Alpine Club and many friends — have scoured the Mount Juneau trail system looking for the 48-year-old physical therapist with virtually no sign of her.

“No new leads from yesterday’s searches, and no new leads have been called overnight or this morning,” Birt told the Empire Thursday morning. “So as far as leads go, we don’t have any information than what we’ve had the last couple of days.”

Leaders of the search party, which is coordinated by the Alaska State Troopers since they have jurisdiction over all searches and rescues in Alaska, met at the JMR headquarters on Glacier Highway to regroup Thursday morning. They decided not to send people out in the field.

“We’re going back to look at the information that we have and re-evalutate and see if there’s anything that we’ve missed or need to go back over,” Birt said after the briefing, adding they might send people out later in the day.

The search for Buis began about 1 a.m. Sunday night with ground searchers sweeping the Mount Roberts trail system. A Coast Guard helicopter, equipped with an infrared system that can detect heat sources in darkness, swept the area at night. On Monday, the search widened to encompass the backcountry, and then on Tuesday searchers scaled back the perimeter and combed back over Mount Roberts and Mount Juneau. On Wednesday, they focused on Mount Juneau and the lower, less-rugged end of the Mount Roberts trail. Again, a Coast Guard helicopter did an aerial sweep of the area.

“We’ve been all over those hillsides, and again assessing where it’s likely she has been,” Birt said. “We have thoroughly searched that area, and then we’ve searched and double-searched areas outside of that, and then searched again areas that she could have gone but isn’t likely. Even those areas have been double-checked.”

Search dogs with SEADOGS have also been out looking for Buis, but they have not picked up her scent. Dogs “showed interest” — which is different and more ambiguous than alerting to a scent — in two different areas on Mount Roberts on Sunday and on Tuesday. But nothing came of it.

The search has not been suspended, Birt noted, although the search party is spending less time in the field by getting a later start and finishing earlier at night. He was reluctant to say if it was winding down.

“It’s evolved to a different stage, and we’re re-assessing and double-checking the facts and the effort that we’ve put into it,” he said

Two of Buis’ family members traveled to Juneau on Wednesday from Aylmer, Ontario, Canada, where Buis was born and raised. Buis moved to Juneau about a decade ago and has worked at Juneau Physical Therapy since 2005. She also is a physical therapist for the Dahl Memorial Clinic in Skagway and has her own business making and selling orthopedic chairs.

Her brother, JIm Buis, and his wife Brenda were briefed by troopers when they arrived in Juneau. Brenda said they were going out on the trails Thursday to help look for her.

“Two hikers are picking us up in about 10 minutes,” Brenda told the Empire by phone. “We’re still continually praying for her safe return.”

Courtney Buis, one of Sharon’s nieces, said the family is not giving up hope.

“Aunt Sharon is tough, intelligent, logical and very practical,” she said in an email. “If anyone is going to survive in the wilderness it will be her.”

Family and friends describe Buis as an outdoorswoman who is very skilled and experienced. She’s biked from Alaska to Canada, and just recently returned from an ice camping trip in Greenland.

Courtney and other family members expressed the hardship of not being in Juneau while the search is ongoing. They’re waiting by the phone for news.

“It’s heart wrenching not being able to do anything from here, and it lifts our spirits seeing all the people who are giving up their time to look for Aunt Sharon,” Courtney wrote, expressing profuse thanks for those searching for her aunt. “I can’t tell you how much it means to me and to the rest of my family what you all have been doing in your efforts to find her. We love her beyond words and are praying with all our hearts that she is found soon.”

 

What-if scenarios

Searchers for Buis have very little to go on — she did not leave a note or tell anyone where she was going. She was reported missing by her longtime hiking buddy, Anne Johnson.

Johnson, 50, called police on Saturday afternoon after Buis missed a hike with the Alpine Club. They were supposed to hike Hawthorne Peak at 9 a.m. but Buis was a no-show. Johnson told the Empire she had a bad feeling and left a wedding reception early to drive around the trailheads to find Buis’ car. She located the car at the first trailhead she tried — Mount Roberts — at about 9:30 p.m. that evening. She called police again, which prompted the search effort.

The car at the trailhead is searchers’ biggest clue of where she might be, Birt said.

They don’t know the whereabouts of her cell phone. It wasn’t found at her home or car, meaning it could be with her, but the cell phone company was not able to trace it. Birt said it didn’t pick up any “pings” when they tried to triangulate her location.

As far as the timeline involved, a search of Buis’ home phone records revealed that she made a call from her house phone to pay a bill early Friday morning, Birt said. A search of her car revealed a receipt that showed shortly after that, at 9:30 a.m. Friday, she went to Alaska Marine Lines near the Rock Dump and made a transaction. That’s her last known location before the trailhead.

There’s no video surveillance at that business, Birt added, so they do not know what she was wearing.

Birt shot down rumors that Buis was “acting funny” at the business. Upon investigation, troopers determined that was a “misunderstanding at the transaction,” Birt said.

Birt refused to discuss if Buis wanted to commit suicide, saying it wasn’t “at play” and they do not have any information that is the case.

“I’m not going to comment on what-if’s,” he said. I don’t have any information about what-if scenarios.”

Birt also shot down rumors of foul play. That rumor was spurred by the fact that a physical therapist, 52-year-old Sandra Gelber, was found dead on a Juneau trail earlier this month.

“I am not even going to comment on that rumor because that’s gone all over town as well, we’ve heard it several times,” he said. “I don’t even have a comment on that rumor.”

Birt said the only thing searchers can look to is the facts: an abandoned car coated in pollen at the trailhead.

Friends, such as Johnson, have joined in on the search every day. Others have helped out in other ways, such as Renee Holmes.

Holmes and others have been taking care of Buis’ three cats and helping troopers with “grunt work” to help determine what Buis could be wearing or carrying with her.

For instance, searchers heard Buis likes to hike in a yellow shirt, so Holmes searched for it at her home. She found it.

“She might have another one, we just don’t know,” Holmes noted.

The friends were also asked to look for a handheld emergency activation device that Buis owns. Unfortunately, they found it at the home, Holmes said.

Even if the search is unsuccessful, Holmes says they will never stop looking.

“We’re hoping that everybody stays safe and keeps trying,” she said, “because until we bring her back, we’re not going to stop.”

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

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Tom Leston
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Tom Leston 05/30/14 - 09:11 am
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What would a seasoned hiker

What would a seasoned hiker do if hurt? Might they pull themselves into a covered area to try and stay warm? Have search parties looked for such covered areas? Have we asked locals to come forward to share what they know of these trails?
It is a relatively small area to search, I am truly stunned that this effort - our first responders - have all failed to locate her!

Send out the freaking national guard and find this poor lady! What a failure!

Tom Leston
1828
Points
Tom Leston 05/30/14 - 09:15 am
1
11
Alaska State Troopers have

Alaska State Troopers have called off the search for missing hiker Sharon Buis? Good lord!

Call the guard.

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