Search for missing hikers focuses on 'terrain trap'

Teams from across B.C. scour woods, mountains near Birken for Bagnall, Jetté

The search for two hikers who haven't been seen since they left Sept. 4 for a hike in the mountains near Birken this week was focusing on an area near Cassiope and Saxifrage peaks that's known as a difficult drainage from which to find one's way out.

About 24 searchers from across the province, as well as one RCMP and two commercial helicopters, intensified their search early this week for Rachael Bagnall, 25, and Jonathan Jetté, 34, Whistler RCMP Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair said on Tuesday (Sept. 14).

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The searchers, including some with climbing equipment, were planning to narrow their search to the Peck Creek area on Tuesday.

"Where the vehicle is parked, it would lead you to believe the natural place would be for them to hike into that area, and there's a natural drainage that's a bit of a terrain trap," LeClair said.

"We're going to work on that drainage and either find them or eliminate that" as a possible location for the missing hikers, he said.

Search teams have been looking for the Vancouver pair - Jetté is originally from Longeuil, Que., while Bagnall is from Prince George - since last Thursday (Sept. 9) after they were reported three days overdue from a two-day hike into the Cirque Peak area.

Almost immediately, searchers located the couple's vehicile along the Spetch Creek Forest Service Road near Birken. The next day, another hiking group turned in a pair of sunglasses believed to belong to Bagnall.

The two are experienced hikers who were equipped for backcountry travel. They had two- or three-day supply of food with them when they departed. LeClair said that while the time that's elapsed since their disappearance is a concern, it's still possible they could be found alive.

"They could certainly have survived provided they're not injured. You can survive for three weeks without food, and there's an adequate water supply up there," he said.

"If they were injured, then the likelihood of finding them alive is very slim. As the days progress, it becomes more and more critical, but if they hunkered down in the bush there, there is a possibility of survival."

The search team, which initially involved Whistler and Pemberton Search and Rescue, was expanded this week to involve searchers from Squamish, the North Shore, Cowichan, Comox and Ridge Meadows, LeClair said. A team of high mountain search specialists from southeastern B.C. also was being brought in on Tuesday, he said.

While search conditions were good as of Tuesday, the weather was expected to make conditions more difficult later in the week.

As part of the effort to find the team, authorities hired a locksmith to enter Jetté's apartment in Vancouver to determine what sort of equipment he brought along for the hike.

"We don't believe they have ropes and harnesses, but that they do have ice axes, helmets and Thermarests that sort of thing," LeClair said.

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