Some 140 Search and Rescue (SAR) and support personnel searched over 524 acres of area along the Little Klickitat River, along State Highway 142 on Saturday and Sunday, October 19 and 20th, trying to find Heather McAlister. McAlister, a 27-year old resident of Klickitat County, left her home on July 3rd during a mental health crisis. She was last seen on Hwy 142 leading to the Klickitat River. Multiple, previous, smaller searches and the investigation into McAlister’s disappearance by the Klickitat County Sheriff’s Office did not find her, or any evidence of normal activity with her cell phone or finances.
Searchers and support personnel from all across Washington and northern Oregon volunteered their time along with Klickitat County personnel, to conduct a concentrated, large-scale search of the river and property adjacent to the river. In preparation for this weekend’s search, local property owners agreed to have SAR personnel comb their property to look for clues in the grassy, brushy, steep, rocky and rugged areas adjacent to the river—as well as in the river and on riverbanks. After contact from the Sheriff’s Office, one property owner found some personal belongings of McAlister’s along his fence-line. This finding became the initial planning point for the extensive two day search effort.
Searcher planners and managers utilized SAR Ground Teams, Dog Teams, Mountain Rescue Teams, Swiftwater Rescue Teams, and unmanned aerial vehicles to systematically search for clues. The searchers were supported by an Incident Management Team developed by the Klickitat County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team and Reserve Deputy Program. The newly established Washington State Search Planning Unit was requested and participated extensively to support the preplanning and search effort.
Responders came from private volunteer Search and Rescue groups, law enforcement agencies, Emergency Management organizations, and local responder agencies. Specialized communication support unit was brought inform Oregon. A bone identification expert was on-scene to evaluate over 70 bone clue finds. All of which were determined to be animal remains.
The searchers worked in cold, rainy and windy conditions during daytime hours. The wet conditions complicated road access to the search areas and made walking on the steep slopes and rockslide areas very dangerous. No injuries were reported and only one vehicle became stuck but was quickly freed.
The searchers camped at the Klickitat County Fairgrounds in Goldendale. Papa John’s Pizza, in Goldendale; The Soup Ladies, a state volunteer group; and Heather’s family provided food for the searchers and support staff.
Jeff King, Search and Rescue Coordinator for Klickitat County said, “This was a large and complex search effort with lots of moving parts. The professionalism of the searchers and the weeks of hard work by the Incident Management Team made for a comprehensive and efficient search effort. The Sheriff’s Office will continue to look for leads to bring closure for Heather’s family”.
Klickitat County Search & Rescue Volunteers (KCSAR) are looking for new members. The Search & Rescue basic training Academy will be starting in mid-January 2020 and is the perfect opportunity to join and get trained as a SAR volunteer in the least amount of time. If you would like more information about joining or donate to KCSAR go to klickitatsar.org or call 509-773-4455.