Derrick James Engebretson

Friday, March 03, 2006

Diver combs lake bottom for missing boy's hatchet

Diver combs lake bottom for missing boy's hatchet

The Associated Press

10/20/02 7:30 PM

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. (AP) -- It has been four years since 8-year-old Derrick Engebretson disappeared while hunting for Christmas trees with his father on slopes of Pelican Butte.

Hundreds of people joined in the original, desperate search after Derrick's disappearance on Dec. 8, 1998. They never found so much as a shred of clothing.

On Saturday, volunteers brought a new approach to the search by using a metal detector to look for a hatchet Derrick was carrying when he was last seen.

Billy Crabtree, founder and director of a private search organization called REACT of Oregon, believes the key to Derrick's fate might be found in a shallow inlet near Malone Springs Road.

Four years ago there was a hole in the ice, and a child's footprint on the bank.

According to Klamath County Sheriff's Office Detective John Dougherty, the hole in the ice was discovered at the time of the initial search.

"The hole in the ice was discovered by Ben Davis, the missing boy's grandfather," Dougherty said last week. "Divers were put in the next day. An additional search was done in the area during the spring thaw."

If it was Derrick that fell through the hole, one clue that would remain after four years would be the hatchet.

If a hatchet were found in the sediment of the inlet, it could indicate that the boy died there.

On Saturday, Portland diver Jeff Preece spent several hours carefully working his way through the shallow water and the deep muck.

Using a metal detector designed to work underwater, Preece found several metal objects, including an oil filter and a metal road sign.

But no hatchet.

Lori Engebretson, the boy's mother, said she appreciated the effort by Preece and Crabtree, who also conducted a search of the area a week earlier.

"Any effort to find my son, I feel 100 percent wonderful about," she said.

In the initial search, hundreds of people, dog teams and an Air Force helicopter equipped with an infrared scanner combed the snowy woods on the flanks of Pelican Butte outside Rocky Point, but turned up little more than a child's bookmark that no one could be sure was Derrick's.

After the search was called off, Lori and her husband Robert Engebretson of Bonanza continued looking on their own for the son they nicknamed "Bear Boy."

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