THE official search for missing mushroom pickers Ike Murray and Michael Devlin Sabo was the largest in the region in decades, bringing in experts from all over the province to help manage the efforts of a growing group of local volunteers covering the area east of Terrace where the pair was last seen.
Once Murray and Sabo were reported missing after not returning to an agreed upon rendezvous the afternoon of Sept. 22, members of Terrace Search and Rescue began looking the next day, assisted by a helicopter.
Numbers of searchers, both trained members of Terrace Search and Rescue, family and friends of the missing pair and people in the community grew daily as no signs were found.
The early-on search is a hasty one aimed at finding any smoke, signs of a fire or any human activity and hearing sounds of people calling. Searchers also call out, hoping to make voice contact.
The search concentrated in the Lorne Creek area along the north side of the Skeena River east of Terrace. That’s where Murray and Sabo and Sabo’s younger brother docked a boat to look for mushrooms Sept. 22.
Officials divided the area into a grid pattern on maps, assigning teams to specific areas.
By Thursday morning Sept. 26, nearly 40 people gathered in front of the search and rescue office on Greig Ave.
Search and rescue team members from Kitimat and Vanderhoof were also there, gathering people into teams of five or six, checking gear and asking who had first aid training.
“Do you know them?” Vanderhoof Search and Rescue team leader Chris Mushumanski asked his group and several people nodded.
With more people expected the next day, Dave Jephson from Terrace Search and Rescue sent out an urgent call Thursday. Because the search was held under the umbrella of the provincial Emergency Management BC agency, along with the RCMP, Terrace Search and Rescue was in daily contact with provincial officials.
“We’re having difficulty sending them in the field without trained people,” Jephson said in his call to search and rescue teams elsewhere.
By Friday, Sept. 27, trained search and rescue team members from Vancouver, Kelowna and Kamloops had flown in, a number that reached eight as the search intensified.
An already-planned weekend field exercise by the Canadian Rangers, local volunteer members belonging to the Canadian Armed Forces, in the Kitwanga area was moved closer to the Lorne Creek search area on Friday, Sept. 27, a move that added 25 people to the searcher numbers.
Their weekend task was to search higher up, more difficult terrain to eliminate any possibility Murray and Sabo had somehow made their way to higher ground.
On Friday morning, close to 50 people were in front of the search and rescue office, waiting for a morning briefing while RCMP officers and search and rescue officials planned that day’s activities.
A provincial fire fighting crew also turned out.
With the weather turning, rain gear was the order of the day and packs carried contained food and water.
Because the search area was on the north side of the Skeena River, teams first drove to a point 53km east of Terrace along Hwy16, parked alongside the highway and then walked to a marshalling point, waiting to be taken by boat across the river.
“We appreciate what you are doing. This is an example of Terrace and the Terrace community,” Jephson said to the group on that Friday morning.
If the number of searchers grew Friday, it ballooned Saturday with an estimated 150 people involved, including Canadian Rangers.
Jephson emphasized the need to look under rocks and logs, anyplace where an injured person might be found.
“We are not looking for somebody who is standing up and waving at us,” he said. “We’re looking for someone who may be injured or trapped.”
That day Trans Canada Pipelines, one of the companies which wants to build a natural gas pipeline to the coast paid for the use of a helicopter. Employees of Focus, a company contracted by Trans Canada to do exploratory work along the planned route, took part as well.
People from town brought out food and the Salvation Army’s mobile kitchen was set up.
More than 100 people turned out the next day, Sunday, Sept. 29 with search officials again emphasizing the need to look under logs, under boulders – anywhere where an injured person might be curled up.
But at the end of that day, search and rescue officials, confident they had scoured every possible place, reluctantly called a halt.
Search and Rescue deemed it unlikely that Murray and Sabo would have strayed outside the natural boundaries of the hilltop overlooking the area in which they were picking because it is bordered by the Skeena River and two creeks and the hill was steep, Jephson said.
“Could we miss them? Did we miss them? That’s a question we will forever ask … The desire for us to find them is huge. Did we fail these people by not finding them? Why did we miss them? What did we do wrong? What can we do better?”
There are various theories about what may have happened – one team of twenty swept the old railway ghost town of Doreen west of the search area, looking inside old cabins to see if Murray and Sabo had wandered down CN rail tracks.
It’s possible, said Jephson, because it gets dark in the woods around 4 p.m. this time of year, that the two men started walking downhill in the wrong direction.
It’s for this reason Jephson said the most likely tragic scenario was that Murray and Sabo were rushing downhill towards Lorne Creek to the east side of the mountain, thinking they were approaching the Skeena, and might have fallen in the treacherous terrain on the edge of the creek. Some of that area, however, will require a team roping down the side to properly access the crevasses.
The official search was not without its own dangers.
On the last day the owner of one of the search boats had backed is trailer into the swift-flowing waters of the Skeena.
While steering his boat onto the trailer, the water started to sweep away the trailer into the river. The owner of the boat barely had time to release the mooring of his boat before the currents completely dragged the truck and trailer underwater.
Despite the official search being called off on Sept. 29, Jephson said that the volunteer search continued with 19 people showing up the next day, equipped with survival gear such as GPS and radios provided by Terrace Search and Rescue.
Local search and rescue members are planning renewed efforts and this past weekend, a group from Prince Rupert was expected to arrive.
Over to the police
THE DISAPPEARANCE of Ike Murray and Michael Devlin Sabo is now officially a police missing persons case.
“I’m not going to get into specifics of what we’ve done but we’re definitely looking at all angles and following up with everything,” said Terrace RCMP Constable Angela Rabut last week.
The growing use of social media as a communications and comment vehicle has added its own complications in adding to speculation about what may have happened, she added.
“When people read things online, somehow [they believe] it’s the truth,” Rabut said.
And although the official search may have now ended, people are continuing to look for signs.
“We can’t limit people in what they do. It’s not a crime scene at all. We can’t stop people from going in there,” said Rabut of the area in which the pair went missing.