Largest-ever search begins Saturday | VailDaily.com

Largest-ever search begins Saturday

J.K. Perry

NWS Search for Vanek BH 9-30

EDWARDS ” More than 200 rescuers from across the state are descending upon the valley for the largest search-and-rescue mission in Colorado history.

They’ll be looking for Michelle Vanek, a 35-year-old mother of four from Lakewood, whose has been missing in the Holy Cross Wilderness for seven days that have seen rain- and snowfall in the High Country.

So far, Vanek, who disappeared during a hike with a friend up the 14,005-foot Mount of the Holy Cross, has failed to respond to rescuers’ whistles and calls, or the sound of patrolling helicopters.

“I would think at this point, Michelle is not mobile or responsive,” said Tim Cochrane of Vail Mouton Rescue. “Over this many days it’s going to be hard to get out into the open.”

Officials confirmed today that Vanek had a small supply of Powerbars and energy “goo.”

Rescuers again failed to find any signs of Vanek on Friday, but officials were preparing for the onslaught of people expected to join the search this weekend.

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Most of the rescuers are staying in Minturn Middle School or sleeping outside. Some groups of volunteers planned to hike out of Minturn at 4 a.m., Saturday.

Pastor Ethan Moore of Trinity Church in Edwards is organizing an effort to prepare 750 bag lunches for the rescuers. “The reason we’re doing this is because we’re here to help the community,” Moore said.

Other groups and individuals have arranged housing for some of the rescuers.

Rescuers finished a search of Tuhare Lake and Seven Sisters Lake while outlying routes where Vanek could have attempted to leave the wilderness were also explored.

“The plan is proceeding right on schedule,” Cochrane said. “We continue to look for any clues that would lead us to where Michelle might have gone, but we still don’t have any clues.”

Of the 200 rescuers planning to comb the Holy Cross Wilderness, 50 will search the Bowl of Tears, the boulder field below the summit where Vanek was last seen.

“The idea is to totally saturate the boulder field through Sunday,” Cochrane said.

Officials are moving their rescue headquarters from Edwards to Minturn. A base camp will be set up at Reads Meadow from Saturday into Sunday night for 100 rescuers and supplies. The camp will allow personnel to begin searching earlier in the day.

Thirty to 35 rescuers from the Front Range will search the main trail leading to the Bowl of Tears where Vanek was last seen. Another 30 have orders to search areas not already covered.

“There is a lot of concern how to get the right number and right people in without getting somebody else lost,” said Eagle County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Bill Kaufman. “The sheriff’s office has received multiple calls from people offering assistance.

The office is no longer seeking volunteers. If Vanek is not found by Sunday night, officials plan to reevaluate their plans for Monday.

Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or jkperry@vaildaily.com.

Vail, Colorado