Ground search for missing hikers to resume

Two different parties to seek couple missing for nearly one year

Two separate parties are set to resume the search for Jonathan Jette and Rachel Bagnall this week nearly one year after the two hikers went missing in the Pemberton area.

Families of the missing couple have hired a group of highly-experienced mountain guides to survey the area in hopes of finding evidence of their whereabouts, while a grassroots-level search has also been organized by another group. Both parties are planning to comb the area starting Friday (Aug. 19).

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Vancouver residents Bagnall, 25, and Jette, 34, haven't been located since they left for a multi-day hike in the area of the Saxifrage and Cassiope peaks close to Birken on Sept. 4 last year. Their vehicle was located on the Spetch Creek Forest Service Road and a pair of sunglasses believed to be Bagnall's were found shortly after the duo was reported missing, but no other clues have turned up since.

RCMP investigated the region by helicopter earlier this month after reports of suspicious bird activity that was potentially linked to the couple's disappearance, but Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair of the Whistler detachment said police didn't believe it was possible for hikers to reach the specific location where they looked.

Squamish-based mountain guide John Furneaux of the Canada West Mountain School is among a group of three guides taking the families back to the region. He credited Pemberton Search and Rescue for doing an "amazing job in covering the area" to this point.

"The family has hired me to take them into the area for closure and to re-cover some of the areas that might have been not as well-searched," said Furneaux. "Some of the areas that we'll be searching are highly-technical areas that were mainly just searched by helicopter and not ground-searched."

Furneaux said anyone going off the main trail in the region would encounter a number of hazards such as vertical cliffs, slippery slopes, ravines and waterfalls.

"It's pretty much the worst that B.C. has to offer in terms of dangerous terrain," he said.

It is believed that Jette and Bagnall had all the necessary gear with them to make their planned hike, but did not have climbing equipment, a GPS navigator, compass or map with them.

"There's a few locations that we've identified and we're going into it with as much hope as we can," said Furneaux, who said his team will operate in the area from Friday until Aug. 27.

Meanwhile, the grassroots search party is being organized through a Facebook page dedicated to the missing couple.

"I don't know Jonathan or Rachel personally, but my fiancé knew Rachel," said Tim Lee, who is helping coordinate the search effort. "We're taking a look at some of the areas closer to the Saxifrage Peak and delineating some search assignments.

"(To find) any sign that's confirmable of the hikers - that's our goal. We want to establish direction of travel or, if at all possible, find them. Another goal is to eliminate the areas that they're not, so through documentation and GPS track data we'll be able to at least narrow down through search efforts where they are not."

The grassroots search is a volunteer effort that will see multiple groups out over the weekend and a minimum of one team of three during the week during daylight hours.

The group will be setting up a base camp on the west shore of Valentine Lake, said Lee.

"We definitely encourage people, if they're adequately skilled and equipped that would like to contribute to contact us," he said.

"Our No. 1 search goal is safety," added Lee. "We don't want anyone hurt on the search, so we're taking steps to make sure everyone is aware of the risks and hazards and comes home safe."

The group is also accepting financial contributions towards the search effort. For more information about the volunteer search or how to donate, search "Jonathan Jette and Rachel Bagnall" on Facebook.

A celebration of Jette's life has also been planned for Aug. 27 in Vancouver.

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