At approximately 10:11 PM on the evening on Monday, May 4th, Union County 911 Dispatch received a report of a 49 year-old male and his 11 year-old son who were overdue returning from a planned canoe trip on the Grande Ronde River. The pair’s plan was to canoe the river from the Grande Ronde River Road bridge to the Hillgard State Park where they would call a family member for pick-up, and they did not call as expected.
Union County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Heath made initial contact with the reporting party at Hillgard State Park and began driving Highway 244 along the river to search the area, and Union County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue was activated with Search and Rescue Lieutenant Vora as Incident Command. Oregon State Police troopers began to assist in the search and were staged at Perry. La Grande Police Department began to assist and staged at Riverside Park. Both Oregon State Police and La Grande Police Department staged to observe the river in case evidence of the pair could be seen. Oregon State Police Trooper Routt, who is a drone pilot in the Oregon State Police drone program, was requested to respond to assist with the search using an infrared camera-equipped drone. A map of priority areas that would be difficult to search on foot was prepared for drone flights.
Seven Search and Rescue members responded, with one team assigned to assist the drone, and the others in ground search and command roles. While assisting with the search, Oregon State Police Trooper Armstrong heard the pair calling from a hillside across the river from the highway near Red Bridge State Park at approximately 11:49 PM.
All available resources responded to the area and began to survey the scene and plan for extraction with the assistance of the Oregon State Police drone flying overhead keeping the stranded subjects in sight. The pair was uninjured, but cold, tired, and unable to move unassisted on the steep and rocky hillside above the river. Due to unknown access, the Wallowa County Search and Rescue swift water team (SWRT) was activated as a contingency, and inflatable kayaks were brought to the scene as well. Search and Rescue members were ultimately able to reach the subjects on foot, and the Wallowa County SWRT was cancelled prior to their arrival.
After providing dry clothing and footwear to the subjects, Search and Rescue team members assisted them through the woods to a logging road where they were then transported out to the staging area by vehicle and reunited with their family at approximately 1:55 AM.