Rescuers find no sign of 8-year-old
Family members, volunteers gather to aid the search in snowy terrain
Wednesday, December 9 1998
By Gordon Gregory, Correspondent, The Oregonian
ROCKY POINT -- The chances of finding 8-year-old Derrick Engebretson alive faded further Tuesday as cold darkness fell over the mountain for a fourth time since he disappeared.
Ben Davis urges searchers to look over the top of Pelican Butte and down the other side for his missing grandson, Derrick Engebretson of Bonanza.
Despite the efforts of hundreds of searchers, tracking dogs and an Air Force Reserve helicopter equipped with a heat-detecting device, there has been no sign of the Bonanza third-grader.
About two dozen family members participating in the search approximately 20 miles south of Crater Lake National Park refused to give up hope and drew comfort from the crowds that turned out to help.
"I would never dream in a million years this many people would show up," said Lori Engebretson, Derrick's mother. "But then, I never dreamed we'd be in this situation."
Derrick became lost Saturday while hunting for Christmas trees with his father and grandfather. He tried to follow his father, Robert K. Engebretson, back up the mountain after they brought a tree down to their truck, which was parked on a paved road just east of Pelican Butte. His mother said Derrick's father told him to stay at the vehicle with his grandfather, Robert O. Engebretson. Meanwhile, his grandfather, who saw Derrick's tracks next to Derrick's father's tracks in the snow, believed the two were together.
When Derrick's father came back to the truck sometime later, both men realized the boy was missing. They started to call and search immediately, but by then heavy snow was falling.
Throughout Saturday night and Sunday morning, the storm dumped as much as 3 feet on that part of the East Cascade mountain.
Despite the cold and snows, Derrick's mother holds tight to the idea that her son is dressed warmly and is exceptionally fit.
"Ever since he learned how to walk, there was no carrying him," she said.
Nicknamed "Bear Boy" by his large extended family, Derrick thought little of hiking miles to hunt, particularly with his maternal grandfather, Ben Davis.
Search officials say the boy's chances of survival dim with each passing hour.
"There's a possibility he could still be alive," said Capt. Roger Pitts of the Klamath County Sheriff's Department. "Miracles do happen."
Throughout Tuesday, searchers fanned out in long lines to work sections of almost two square miles of the steep heavily wooded mountain side. One ray of hope persisted throughout the fruitless day. The Reserve helicopter had detected a hot spot Monday, which officials said could be the boy. Searchers walked that area until after 3 a.m. Tuesday, and at daybreak others were back at the site.
Using long probes to stick into the chest-high snow, teams of searchers spent Tuesday going over the area again and again.
But by the end of the day, they had found nothing.
The helicopter malfunctioned following one flight Tuesday morning and was grounded for the rest of the day. But a second Reserve helicopter dispatched from the Portland Air Base arrived at the search sight at 3:25 p.m. to renew the search. The search ended at nightfall. The crew was expected to spend Tuesday night in the area possibly to resume the search today.
Some family members were critical of Klamath County search and rescue officials for their efforts coordinating the search and keeping family members informed and involved.
Ben Davis said many people had told him they wanted to help but were discouraged by Klamath County law enforcement officials.
Capt. Pitts denied that authorities turned anyone away who was equipped for the rugged conditions.
Ben Davis said he suspects his grandson is lying unconscious beneath the snow, perhaps under a bush or small tree.
"What's got to happen is, someone's got to step on him," he said, referring to the thick growth and thick layer of snow blanketing the mountain.
If there was a voice of hope on the mountain, it was from Beau Smith, of Bonanza.
Eighteen years ago, his then 4-year-old brother and 11-year-old sister were lost for three chilly September days and nights on the same mountain. Searchers at the time began to lose hope.
"It was a terrible time for our family," he said. But he added, "Losing hope is not the thing to do."
For Derrick's mother, a faith that her son will be found is the only thing that stays despair.
"I told myself I wasn't going to cry anymore until he leaves the mountain," she said.