Derrick James Engebretson

Friday, March 03, 2006

Searchers Hope to Find Boy Today, Dad Follows tracks

Searchers Hope to Find Boy Today, Dad Follows tracks
Posted: 12/13/02 8:20 am

December 9, 1998

Search and rescue volunteers line up to make sweeps through the snow Tuesday in a search for 8-year-old Derrick Engebretson, missing since he wandered away from a family tree-cutting expedition Saturday.

Searchers hope to find boy today

Dad follows tracks, but to no avail yet


The Associated Press

ROCKY POINT -- Robert Engebretson knelt in frustration over yet another footprint in the snow Tuesday as the search dragged on for his 8-year-old son, who wandered off during a weekend hunt for a Christmas tree.

"I've just got to find him," the burly millworker said through tears that ran down his bearded face. "I can't leave him up here."

Hundreds of people, some marching in a line, have been combing through the snow-covered Winema National Forest near Pelican Butte, poking through mounds of deep snow with sticks for any trace of Derrick Engebretson.

Even though the brown-haired third-grader has been lost in below-freezing temperatures since Saturday, searchers held out hope that he would be found alive because the boy was an avid hunter and so familiar with the outdoors that his family gave him the nickname "Bear Boy."

"He's not your average 8-year-old. He grew up in the mountains. He's used to being in this weather," Engebretson said, adding that his son had routinely walked up to 20 miles through the southern Oregon countryside.

Engebretson clung the to belief that his son -- who was dressed warmly in a blue snowmobile suit, hat and felt-lined boots -- used the small hatchet he was carrying to build a shelter.

As yet another restless day dimmed toward darkness, Engebretson kept walking, following snowed-over prints in the snow. He was not giving up and hoped his feisty little boy didn't either.

"Derrick will go till he finds his daddy," said Engebretson's sister, Susan Hayes.

Later Tuesday night, the search essentially was postponed for the night, with weary volunteers preparing to come back for a fifth day today.

The boy was last seen Saturday when he joined his father and grandfather on the family's traditional search for the perfect Christmas tree. They parked the pickup on a road running between Upper Klamath Lake and Pelican Butte and headed up the steep hill into woods of fir, pine and manzanita.

As they roamed the woods, Engebretson kept checking to see that Derrick was with his grandfather.

Engebretson said he had about given up on finding a tree and was making one last swing through the woods by himself when Derrick got lost. "My dad saw me and told him to take the axe up to me. He was following in my tracks."

But Derrick never reached his father.

"Dad was coming down the hill and said he had a tree. I asked him where was Derrick. He said, `I thought he was with you."'

They started looking for the boy, calling out his name. But a snowstorm hit, wiping out any tracks.

"Mother nature wasn't in our favor that night," Engebretson said. "When we found out he was gone, it was just a whiteout."

The snow hasn't stopped, building along with a search that now includes dog teams, a Civil Air Patrol plane and an Air Force Reserve helicopter that skims the treetops.

Among the volunteers was Keith Chant, who drove from Washougal, Wash., after seeing a television news report.

"I got in my truck and came up here. I had to come up here and pray," said Chant, a laid-off factory worker with two children of his own.

Hope spread early Tuesday when the helicopter detected a "hot spot" deep in the woods. But searchers found the marker the helicopter had dropped. They didn't find the boy.

Copyright © The Mail Tribune 1998, Medford, Oregon USA