February 7th, 2016
Search Report from Saturday February 6th
No plan goes as expected, especially when it’s success is contingent on outside forces that can’t be controlled.
I set out yesterday with two plans. The first was my primary plan. I wanted to get my group to search areas that have been inaccessible to us, which are the mouth of the river and the eastern section of the lake. This plan required two things to happen. First, we needed permission from Cochiti to fly the drone. Second, we needed permission to access the area closed to the public until April 1st.
We did not receive permission on either front. I had no way of knowing whether or not we did until we met for the search that morning. Even though it was looking promising on Friday, I still had a backup plan in case things didn’t go our way. That backup plan is the plan we ended up using.
Rover Dave had already agreed to spend his Saturday using his drone wherever we needed it. We decided that we could best use it on the river to examine the water, south of where Randy’s raft was found. In addition to Dave, we had Kevin, Anthony, Scott, and Cynthia. But, Cynthia had her trusty companion Molly with her, and didn’t think it would be a good idea to take her to the Montoso Mesa. Molly’s paws would not be happy with the cactus out there.
We all met at the La Bajada marker, and waited for Ranger Nikolas to arrive. We waited for an hour before we decided he wasn’t coming. Cynthia kept busy while we waited by picking up a saddening amount of trash from the meeting place. It would seem that some people had been using it as a dumping ground. She filled a big black bag, and it barely made a dent. She could have filled the bed of her pickup with the monitors, mattress, and other debris.
We decided to split our group up, sending Cynthia and Molly to scout the lake area, and see if it would be worth trying to take a team to the west side of the lake. Cynthia’s scouting trip proved that it would not help us, because it wouldn’t get us close enough to the area for us to see well. There are a couple of miles between the shore and the mouth of the river, and there isn’t a vantage point high enough to compensate for the distance. Cynthia also discovered something else – there WAS ice on the lake still. I don’t know where Ranger Nikolas got his information, but there is definitely still too much ice to see well.
The rest of us headed to the Montoso Mesa. First, we went to the raft location, and flew the drone just south of where the raft was found. We used one full battery to cover the water area. The video resolution is so clear, you can see blades of grass. Last week, we identified a turquoise object in the water. It was small, and we could see it looked plastic, but it didn’t concern us. When we returned this week, we found that same object, still in the same location. It was actually on dry land, in the middle of a sandbar. When we were in the same location a week ago, that item was covered with a few inches of water. That told us the water level is much lower this week.
We didn’t find anything else to note in that location, so we packed up in the trucks and headed around the canyon to the south, out to a point further down the river. We had to forge new roads and find old ones, but eventually we arrived at our location. We hiked to the rim, and we could see miles downstream. Dave decided to hike much lower, to get the best range from his drone. Kevin and Scott joined him. Kevin was Dave’s spotter, and Scott hiked all the way down to river level, to see things much closer.
Dave flew his drone up and down the river banks, hovering over every item he could find. He made sure to fly as low as he could, and covered the entire river surface in a grid pattern. He used every battery he had, and risked losing his drone if the wind kicked up, but he stayed down there for over three hours, getting as much footage as he could.
Anthony and I used Scott’s binoculars to look further downstream than the drone could go. We could see so far, it seemed like we could almost see to the lake. There were several objects in the river, but we couldn’t see any of them with clarity from that distance. The sharp turn at the end was too far for anything we had to see very clearly.
We didn’t make it back to the trucks until 3:30. We spent the next hour praying our way through the mud, while we trekked out of there. I didn’t see my car again until almost 5 pm.
It was difficult for us to make out anything on the video, while we were in the field. The glare on the remote screen does not allow us to see colors or objects clearly. But, when I go home, I popped the card into my computer, and I was amazed at what I saw. You can see bushes, grass, small pieces of litter and debris, and even the ripples in the sand beneath the water. The video is clearer than any of our eyes could see, without having to stick our heads in the river.
I have given the memory card with the drone footage to Cynthia very early this morning. She is spending the entire day uploading the files. It may take her into tomorrow. She will give me the links to all of the video as soon as she has them. When she does, I will share the video so that you can all help us go through it and make sure we didn’t miss anything.
Sadly, we have run out of new places to search, until we get permission from any agency, or until April 1st, when the Tetillo Peak Recreation Area reopens. Cynthia and I checked, and that gate is very locked. And, that hike is too far to be done on a reasonable day. We most likely will never receive permission to fly the drone any further south than we have already done. And, the water in the lake is far too cold to recommend that we spend any significant time in watercraft. If someone were to accidentally fall in, the hypothermia could be catastrophic that far away from help or shore.
I think we may have reached an impasse in our search efforts. I know that there are others out there checking on a few small possibilities that are left, but the areas that hold the most promise are the most difficult for us to get in to.
Also, I think the water based searches should only be performed by trained professionals, and hopefully with high-tech equipment to search places that people shouldn’t. That would probably be an expensive venture, but would also yield the best results.
Many of you still want to help, and one way you can do that is to continue to contribute to the GoFundMe campaign. Randy’s daughter has control of that account, and she can use that money towards paying professionals to check the water. The local law enforcement don’t have access to the expensive and experimental equipment that the private sector does, but the private companies almost always require to be paid for their work.
Thank you all of you so much for your support and kind words. Please send those good thoughts and wishes to Randy’s family. They need them much more than us.