January 21st, 2016
KOB-TV in Albuquerque had a news story on their 6PM newscast. The link is below.
Short brief by Forrest
We searched 4 hours with Doug Christian flying the helicopter. He is the best and was able to put us in positions that gave us great search vantage points. We flew up and down Rio Grande, searching the water, and 300 feet either side. The water is low and conditions were ideal, no wind, no ice, and air temp at 42 degrees. We flew up two canyons for maybe 6 miles, until they got so narrow we couldn’t get through. We were met with nothing but disappointment. Tom Cremeens, the medic who first discovered the boat, was with us and we put him out on a sand bar for an hour while we continued up and down the river to Cochiti lake and back. Tom had a hunch. Cynthia Meachum and Roger Craddock were in the back looking. We had 8 eyes searching. I wish I had good news to report, but I don’t. My 85 year-old bones are ready for a beer, while we think about tomorrow. (more from Forrest below)
Short Brief by Sacha
I did not go on the helicopter adventure today, but rather I worked behind the scenes.
I had dinner with Cynthia and Katya this evening. Katya is pooling her vast resources to find people with both ATVs and high end drones, to see if they can cover the rest of the east side of the river, down from where Randy’s raft was found. She has already had some people respond, and she is arranging to take a crew out, with Cynthia, this weekend – pending good weather.
So far, searchers have searched the site where Randy’s car was found, visually inspected the contents of the car, searched the site where his raft was found, along the river banks south of the raft location all the way to the lake, the river and the banks all the way from the car to the raft, the north side of Frijoles Canyon, the canyon walls between the raft and the lake, and part of the trail and mesa on the east side above Randy’s raft.
We have exhausted all of our easily accessible areas, and we are now forced to focus on the more remote possibilities. All of these possibilities require access to restricted areas, or areas impassible by any kind of vehicle.
We did receive a bit of good news, by accident. At dinner, Katya called a connection in Cochiti Pueblo, and was setting up a meeting tomorrow , to ask for permission to access gated areas for drone searching. During her call, she discovered that they had granted the NM SAR permission to search the area TODAY! We were so happy to hear they were on the case, once again. I don’t know the details of the search, but knowing that it happened made me feel better.
Someone in the TTOTC community has benevolently decided to cover the cost of high resolution aerial imagery. Not only will this happen, but it is going to happen tomorrow morning, beginning at 7:30 am. I have been in contact with the pilot, who tells me that he will be able to cover quite a bit of ground, but since this service is not free, we had to carefully decide where to have him go.
After much deliberation, we have decided to focus our efforts on the west side of the Rio Grande, from south of Frijoles Canyon all the way to the lake, and hopefully cover up to 2 miles from the river bank. This area is the most remote, and most difficult to access. Essentially, it requires camping, so this is the hardest place to get to, and where he will do the most good.
I should have access to the images TOMORROW, and I will give them to all of you. You said you wanted to help, and if this actually happens tomorrow, you will get your chance.
Each of you will need to scour images and look for clues. If it is larger than a helmet, you should be able to see it. This is your opportunity to pitch in, no matter how far you live.
Once I have the video, I will give it to Dal, and he will put it somewhere so that all of you can look at it.
Finally, I have to leave town, but only for a couple of days. I will be back on Sunday, and Cynthia will run things on the ground. I will continue to work behind the scenes, and will be waiting on reports from anyone who finds any clues.
I wish you all luck in your search. May your years of research experience serve you well.
Full Briefing by Forrest
The short hours made a long day for me. We met at the airport at 11:30, Cynthia, Roger, Erin (the flight nurse who found Leo), and her husband, who is a tall, good looking fireman. And Tom Cremeens, the medic who was in the Helicopter with Erin. (He is also a M/Sgt in the AF Reserve). Leo, the star of the day, was not short of cuddles. He was thin, and had a raw paw from his ordeal. The banks of the Rio Grande are cluttered with large boulders and cinders of basalt (volcanic lava) that left their mark on Leo, but not bad.
The photos were all taken by Cynthia.
Shortly after noon the helicopter arrived from Double Eagle airport and we ran through a quick briefing and planned for our four hours of flying time that was about to come. We were jabbering and full of optimism. The pilot (Doug Christian) loaded Tom and I in the chopper and we flew the ten minutes to the river. We searched up and down for about 30 minutes, then landed on a lonely sandbar and let Tom out. He wanted to search an area where Randy might have seen the blaze.
While Tom was thrashing through the rocks and thick brush, Doug and I went back to the airport and picked up Cynthia and Roger. We started looking just above Buckman Road where Randy’s car was parked, and slowly worked our way down river, searching and circling. Fifty feet above the water and cruising at 30 mph, large numbers of ducks and geese passed under us flying at 40 mph, and outran our chopper. Bald eagles were ever present. Nothing else.
The river was a beautifully faded green color, with the bottom showing most of the way. No ice or turbulence to worry about, and wind temperature at 42 degrees. It was an ideal searching situation. At first we flew down the river, looking 300’ on either side. We saw nothing but inhospitable brush and rocks. Side swamp-looking lagoons 200’ wide made periodic appearances. Humans cannot walk across those things. We saw no footprints anywhere, and no buzzards. The unclimbable mountains kissed the water in most places, and where they didn’t, salt cedar trees were so thick that no animals could struggle passage.
Paramount in my mind was the thought that man is not supposed to get out of a boat from Buckman Road to Cochiti Lake, where the river widened as the lake backed up into the river.
After burning 2 hours of sunshine we returned Cynthia and Roger to the Santa Fe airport and took on fuel. Then Doug and I returned to the sand bar and picked up Tom. What he thought might have been the blaze, wasn’t, so we flew upstream a couple of miles to Randy’s boat and landed on another sand bar. To my surprise the boat was only about 100’ from the river. To get to the boat Tom and I waded through several places where water was running over sticky muck. It was so sticky that my left boot evacuated my foot and quickly filled with water. Tom and I were wet, and I told myself that Randy was probably smarter than we were.
The boat had a tear in the bottom so water had to flow in. Randy’s feet and pants were wet. One paddle had a broken handle, but no matter, because the boat had no oar locks, which meant Randy was paddling with one oar and not rowing with two. No sign of a warming fire anyplace.
Everything I saw made me uncomfortable. There was no way Randy could take his boat back to his car. There was no way Randy could climb to the mesas on top. If he had maps on his person they had to be almost useless. Canyons that dumped into the river were every half mile on both sides, and from the river one could not tell which was which. We flew up three of the larger canyons on the west side of the river and we didn’t know which ones we were in. They are easy to identify on a map, and from the air, but from the river it’s highly unlikely, especially for someone who had never been there before.
After 4 hours of searching, and circling, and backtracking, and straining, Tom and I looked at each other in bewilderment. Doug saw our expressions and slowly pulled up on the collective pitch, and I saw the vertical speed rise to 500 feet per minute climb. After several minutes we were out of the Rio Grande canyon and looking at Cochiti Lake, a few miles distant. We were going home.