Authorities answer some questions about search
EAGLE COUNTY ” The search for missing hiker Michelle Vanek was suspended Saturday night because searchers had explored areas of Mount of the Holy Cross where they thought she could be, authorities said Monday.
The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and Vail Mountain Rescue Group, the agencies that lead the search, have received numerous questions about the halting of the search, Capt. Bill Kaufman said.
“After hundreds of members of trained search and rescue teams, hundreds of family, friends and concerned Coloradans scoured areas of significant probability that Ms. Vanek would be, but also remote areas of lesser possibility, it was determined that the search for Ms. Vanek would be suspended,” Kaufman said.
Vanek, a 35-year-old mother of four from Lakewood in suburban Denver, was last seen just below the summit of the 14,005-foot Mount Of The Holy Cross, Sept. 24, 2005, when she became separated from her hiking partner, who had continued to the top of the peak.
Professional rescue crews and volunteers looked for Vanek for eight days but found no trace of her.
On Saturday, more than 220 professional rescuers and volunteers from the Vail Valley and across Colorado scoured the mountain and nearby trails without finding anything.
Saturday night, Kaufman said authorities had determined further searches were unlikely to locate Vanek.
“Any further mission would not lead to the possibility of finding Ms. Vanek,” Kaufman said at press conference Saturday night.
Vail Mountain Rescue Group director Tim Cochrane speculated Saturday Vanek fell into a hard-to-reach, heavily forested series of cliff bands and was too injured to help herself or signal rescuers.
Cochrane said the cliffs were too difficult to search without some evidence, such as broken branches or other disturbances, to give rescuers an idea where to look.
“Unless we have some clue, if she did fall there, I don’t know how we’re going to find her,” Cochrane said. “It’s truly a mystery as to where Michelle is.”
Vail Mountain Rescue Group will review its notes from the search to decide if any further efforts are necessary, Kaufman said.
The Sheriff’s Office and Vail Mountain Rescue Group urge any individuals who want to continue to search for Vanek to tell someone where they are going, when they enter the backcountry, when they expected to be back and if their plans change.
Anyone who finds any signs of Vanek are asked not to disturb the area, note the location and notify the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office at 328-8500.
Assistant Editor for Local News Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or firstname.lastname@example.org.