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I don't remember ever hearing about anyone surviving the backcountry this long especially under the conditions we've had. With tempratures in the 10-20 degree range and ocassional snowfall (over a foot) the skier who had nothing but his ski gear was able to keep himself alive for 4 days and nights, though he was not in good shape when they found him, he was still able to talk.

Story below.....

Missing skier found


SNOQUALMIE PASS - An Ellensburg man missing for four days and four nights in the snow-covered wilderness near the Alpental ski area was found alive Sunday afternoon.

Dan Witkowski, 25, was airlifted Sunday by military helicopter to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle where he remained this morning in serious condition.

Kittitas County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Fred Slyfield said this morning Witkowski was found by searchers after a helicopter noticed a set of ski tracks in the snow and followed them.

"They found the single ski trail and a single bootprint trail in the snow from the helicopter," Slyfield said. "He was found around 4 p.m."

Slyfield said Witkowski was found four to six miles west of the ski area in the Pratt River drainage - one ridge away from the Interstate 90 corridor.

"He is very, very lucky," Slyfield said. "He's lucky it's not 48 hours later because there is a big snowstorm coming in."

For four days Bob and Maryann Witkowski prepared themselves to lose their son, who had not returned from a solo New Year's Eve ski outing.

By 4 p.m. Sunday, an hour before search and rescue teams were to end the search, Bob Witkowski, Ellensburg's community-development director, had all but let go, he said by telephone Sunday from Harborview.

"I knew they were going to call me at 5, and I knew what they were going to tell me: that it's over," he said.

Instead, just as he was about to take a walk outside to say goodbye to Dan, Bob got a call from Gary Vanlandingham, the search and rescue chaplain.

Dan was OK; they found him.

The emotions he went through Sunday can't be put into words, Bob Witkowski said.

"At this point, mentally and spiritually, you're starting to let go of him, because you know it's probably not going to end well," he said.

Instead, thanks to one last-ditch search of the rough backcountry, Dan Witkowski ate his first meal of the new year Sunday night. His parents had to feed him because his hands suffered severe frostbite, but he is in stable condition at Harborview, Bob Witkowski said.

Through a voice cracking with dehydration, Dan explained that he had been able to survive by walking throughout the day and night, drinking from streams, and stopping only for 15-minute catnaps under trees, Bob Witkowski said. Dan was under one of those trees when he heard a search helicopter, he said. Dan staggered out and soon was surrounded by rescue workers, Bob Witkowski said.

The reunion of parents and son came later and was filled with indescribable emotion, he said.

"It was hard to even talk," Bob Witkowski said. "I just wanted to touch him. We just wanted to touch him and feel him."

Sunday night, Bob Witkowski still could not really describe how he felt except to say he was grateful to all the King County Search and Rescue personnel, the Kittitas County Search and Rescue people who helped out, and the volunteers who searched for four days. Their efforts have made him want to be a better person, himself, he said.

"They took my estimation of human nature, and they raised the bar," he said. "If they have that in them, everyone has that in them."

Scores of people had been looking for Witkowski since he was first reported missing Thursday. Witkowski had failed to meet up with friends on New Year's Eve and his car was found parked at the Alpental ski area in Snoqualmie Pass, off Interstate 90 about 40 miles east of Seattle.

About a foot of snow fell in the area on Saturday, and searchers feared that if they didn't find him in the clear daylight Sunday, they might not find him at all. A bad storm is expected for later today.

Temperatures in the central Cascades had dropped way below freezing, with a low of zero degrees reported Saturday night at nearby Stampede Pass. Alpental reported 8 degrees Sunday.

The King County Sheriff's Office sent up three helicopters Sunday with spotters on board who were familiar with the terrain. Northwest of the ski area, they recognized intermittent ski and boot tracks in the new snow.

A team of six rescuers on skis set out for the area, but because they had to hike over much of the terrain, it took them more than seven hours. They reached Witkowski as dusk fell after 4 p.m.

The helicopters might never have flown over the area had not two independent witnesses come forward to say they had seen someone matching Witkowski's description heading northwest out-of-bounds last Wednesday.

[ January 05, 2004, 03:45 PM: Message edited by: MrHyak ]