FALL RIVER MILLS, Calif. — Authorities are expressing some exasperation after a series of search and rescue missions in a remote and snowbound area near the borders of Siskiyou, Shasta and Modoc counties throughout the month of April that involved a familiar cast of characters.
According to the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office (SCSO), the first incident occurred on April 5, when a man named Jay Woods reported that his friend Katherine Bishop had gotten her vehicle stuck in the Pondosa area of southeast Siskiyou County. Search and rescue teams responded and were able to save Bishop, her two children and a friend using a Sno-Cat vehicle — bringing them all back to Fall River Mills.
On April 9, authorities received another call — this time from Bishop herself — indicating that she and two friends "were again immobilized in the same area when rescued on April 5," SCSO said.
"Ms. Bishop evidently got her vehicle out of the predicament from the earlier incident but got stuck in snow and mud on the way out of the area. According to the second report, the trio were out of food and water and needed assistance," the Sheriff's Office said.
Again rescuers set out, finding the stranded parties with the help of a California Highway Patrol (CHP) helicopter, recovering them and bringing them back to Fall River Mills.
On April 13, authorities received another call — this one from the original caller, Jay Woods. He told dispatch that he was stuck in the snow near Whitehorse Reservoir at the Siskiyou - Modoc county line.
"SCSO’s SAR team determined the reporting party was actually stranded in Modoc County, based on a global position system analysis, but continued their response to the report," the Sheriff's Office said.
Just a few hours later, authorities received a call about a missing person from the town of Burney, and determined that he was associated with the call from Woods.
"It was determined Mr. Jay Woods and Mr. Cole Rainwater from Fall River Mills summoned help from a good Samaritan to get their vehicles unstuck in the Pondosa area. Due to the dangers associated with the remote, heavily wooded snow and ice-covered terrain where the imperiled persons were suspected to be located, a request was transmitted to the CHP to search the area by air," SCSO said.
Unfortunately, the saga did not end there. Although the CHP helicopter crew were able to find the vehicles used by Woods, Rainwater, and the unnamed good Samaritan, they did not sight any people around the stranded vehicles. Search efforts continued into the next day, with no sign.
"At about 3:46 a.m., the same date, the daughter of the good Samaritan indicating her father was located in the area but Mr. Rainwater and Mr. Woods ventured away from the immobilized vehicle into the nearby wooded area, and were last seen on Saturday, April 13 at about 1:30 p.m.," SCSO said.
Resources from the Shasta County Sheriff's Office and even federal forestry agents joined the search, checking roads leading from the Whitehorse Reservoir. On Monday, April 15, the federal agents found shoe impressions in the snow, "indicating the path of the lost persons."
It wasn't until Tuesday, April 16, that the CHP helicopter crew located Woods and Rainwater, landing and spiriting them away.
“The outcome of this rescue was favorable and we are relieved no one was injured," said Deputy Mike Burns, SCSO Search and Rescue Coordinator. "But the series of rescue missions were time-consuming and costly, especially considering the enormous efforts expended by federal, state, and local resources allocated to search for some of the same citizens subjected to previous search efforts. The rescued persons were previously advised not to return to the hazardous areas until the weather and ground conditions were safer."
"The incidents and related searches are being reviewed to determine what action, if any, will be taken in this case involving the actions of the involved parties," said Sheriff Jon Lopey.
In an apparent coincidence, a reporter and photographer from NewsWatch 12's sister station in Chico, Action News Now, were conducting a "ride-along" with CHP Northern Division Air Operations when the crew found Woods and Rainwater. The Facebook Live embedded below details the situation — which saw the two journalists temporarily stranded in service of the rescue mission.