Josh fell into the turbulent, glacially fed Ohanapecosh River on July 4 during an outing with friends. Warm weather that led to snow melt made the river especially high, hampering search efforts. On Sunday, however, the Port Orchard teen’s body was spotted by kayakers, who alerted authorities.
But getting to him was no easy matter.
Josh lay in a foot of water between a mile and a mile-and-a-half from where he fell in, according to Roger Beckett of Olympic Mountain Rescue, who got the call about 2 a.m. Sunday from the state’s Emergency Management Division. Beckett coordinates rescue efforts for the group.
Typically, a mountain rescue group from Tacoma would have been called first, since they are closer, Beckett said. But because rescue groups are staffed by volunteers, the matter of who responds depends on who can most quickly rally a group of people with the technical skills required for the situation.
Josh’s body was reported to be in or near a rocky gorge kayakers call the “elbow room,” a particularly challenging stretch of the river, with narrow chutes of foamy white water and deadfall trees littering the route. Beckett expected rescuers would need to rappel into the gorge.
“This isn’t a place where anybody goes unless they go down to fish and kayak. It’s a rugged part of the river system,” Beckett said.
By 8 a.m. Monday a team of six Olympic Mountain Rescue members arrived at Packwood to receive a briefing from the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, which was leading the search and recovery. Beckett did not go along, but he got a briefing later from team members. They split into three groups from the base of operations near the intersection of highways 12 and 123 and combed the riverbank at the bottom of a steep grassy ravine, according to Beckett.
Finally, they located Josh and were able to reach him, placing him in a stretcher, which they lifted to the road in several pitches, using a 600-foot rope.
Olympic Mountain Rescue, established in 1959, is made up of 25 to 30 members familiar with alpine climbing and specially trained for rescue and recovery in rough terrain, where even first responders are hard put to go.
OMR members participate in a couple dozen rescue or recovery efforts most years, and they took part in the search for missing outdoors writer Karen Sykes in June on Mt. Rainier. Sykes, an experienced mountaineer, died of hypothermia on the mountain. The group did not participate in rescue Tuesday of a 25-year-old Bremerton man who fell down an embankment under High Steel Bridge on the Skokomish River.