Air search launched for 2 Washington hikers

SEATTLEThe Skamania County sheriff’s office says helicopters and a plane are searching for a man and a woman missing in separate, remote areas of southwest Washington.

Chief Criminal Deputy Pat Bond says the Coast Guard and King County are sending copters Thursday and the Transportation Department a fixed-wing plane.

The ground search has been suspended to allow volunteers to regroup and revitalize for a search Saturday, if needed.

Ground searchers on Wednesday failed to find Kristopher Zitzewitz, 31, of Portland, Ore., Skamania County Undersheriff Dave Cox said. The man was last seen Saturday in the Big Lava Beds area of Gifford Pinchot National Forest, southwest of 12,280-foot Mount Adams.

Search leaders were also trying to locate Alejandra Wilson, 23, who failed to check in by phone with her father Monday. She has been hiking the Pacific Coast Trail.

The search for Wilson depends on aircraft, and Wednesday’s weather precluded an air search, Cox said. A Coast Guard helicopter tried to reach the Zitzewitz search area but was forced to turn back.

Two other hikers, Matt Margiotta and Kyla Arnold, were hoisted aboard a Coast Guard helicopter Tuesday evening from the Pacific Crest Trail where it crosses the western flank of Mount Adams. The helicopter rescue came after a group of ground searchers made it to within less than a mile of the couple, only to be stopped by deep snow and failing daylight.

Wilson was believed to be about a day’s hike north of where Margiotta and Arnold were found.

Cox said ground searches were being temporarily suspended “to give our search resources an opportunity to regroup and revitalize.”

“We are anticipating renewing the extensive ground search efforts, if needed, on Saturday morning for Kristopher and Alejandra,” he said.

Wilson’s father, Dane Wilson of Portland, Ore., last heard from her Friday as she was leaving Trout Lake, a tiny hamlet south of Mount Adams, for White Pass. He reported her overdue after she failed to check in again by Monday, but it wasn’t clear whether she needed any assistance.

Margiotta, Arnold and Wilson were all hiking the length of the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs 2,650 miles from Mexico to the Canadian border, and kept online journals of their travels.

In an update Friday, Arnold mentioned having run into Wilson. She also described having nearly run out of food after heavy rains forced her and Margiotta to huddle under a tarp for four days last week — long delaying their arrival in Trout Lake.

“We finally made it to Trout Lake today and another huge storm is rolling in,” Arnold wrote. “Everyone says we can’t make it because of the weather situation, and to be honest it’s quite terrifying, but I can’t fathom coming this far and giving up.”

The Yakima County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue team was on standby to provide assistance as needed, Sgt. George Town said Wednesday. He noted that it isn’t uncommon for late-season Pacific Crest Trail arrivals to run into snow and sometimes need help, but the hikers are usually well experienced and prepared after more than 2,000 miles on foot.

“They get a fair amount of experience between Mexico and here,” he said. “They’re adept, generally speaking, but this was a pretty good early snowfall.”

Wilson was apparently far enough north that she would be out of cellphone range, unlike Margiotta and Arnold, who managed to call for help Monday and give rescuers their coordinates, Town said.

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