Likely miscommunication creates huge rescue bills
A group ski trip and a lack of communication led to a massive overnight search at Heavenly Ski Resort on Saturday.
Word went out that a 30-year-old woman from Lafayette, Calif., might be lost on the mountain when she failed to show up for the group’s bus ride back to the Bay Area.
The woman had not been located as of Sunday evening, but her father was not worried because he said he knew she planned to split from the group and spend a night in Tahoe. Apparently she never told the group about catching another ride home.
The ski group, affiliated with a health club in the Bay Area, headed home without the woman on Saturday at 5:20 p.m. Search of the mountain began at 11 p.m. after initial investigative leads fizzled.
The mission was suspended in the middle of the night due to darkness. It resumed at 7 a.m. and went until 11 a.m. on the California side of the mountain. In Nevada, searchers worked until 3 p.m. because they had to make their way out of the backcountry.
The terrain at Heavenly Ski Resort is split between California and Nevada.
“We shut down the mission after we got additional information from the family,” El Dorado County sheriff’s Deputy Mike Sukau, a coordinator of the search, said. “We searched all the in-bounds areas thoroughly and all out-of-bounds tracks were followed.”
On Sunday night, the woman’s father still did not believe his daughter to be missing.
“He’s so satisfied at this point he’s not putting her in the missing person’s system,” Sukau said.
The woman, her name not released by the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department, was last seen skiing late Saturday morning at the top of Sky Express lift. The search for her spread across the entire mountain. It involved two helicopters, three snow cats, about 60 volunteers from El Dorado, Douglas and Washoe counties, patrollers from Heavenly and sheriff’s department staff from both counties.
“There was an awful lot of searching on going on,” said Shaun Thomas Sr., coordinator of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Unit. “We did everything we were asked to do. We didn’t stop.”
The search cost thousands of dollars. The bill for the equipment and personnel in Nevada will likely be absorbed by Douglas County. As for the cost of the search in California, the bill will be sent to Contra Costa County, where the woman resides, Sukau said.
All parties involved in the case said they expected the woman to show up safely in the Bay Area by Sunday night. Sukau said he plans to call and check in with the family every couple of hours.
“The Sheriff’s Department did everything and more than we needed to,” he said. “I think after tonight, or another 24-hour period, the family may then elect to enter her into the missing persons system. Then the case would probably be turned over to law enforcement investigators.”
Saturday’s massive search is the third at Heavenly in as many weeks.
On Jan. 22, a South Lake Tahoe woman went out-of-bounds off Outer Limits, a trail in Killebrew Canyon. She turned up uninjured in a lift operator’s hut at the bottom of Mott Canyon. On Feb. 2, a man from Phoenix spent the night in a rocky, out-of-bounds area off Perimeter, a trail near Galaxy lift. He was found in the morning, cold but safe, by Heavenly Ski Patrol.