The circumstances leading to the disappearance and rescue of an Oregon family in the backwoods of northern B.C. this week can be boiled down to poor planning, RCMP said.
In a news release last Thursday, Dease Lake Mounties said the parents were simply inadequately prepared for their adventure into Canada.
“After the family was found, it was learned that they planned to travel to Alaska, while camping along the way,” the release states.
“Although they came with some camping supplies, it seems they may have underestimated the vastness of northern B.C., such as the distances between services and were not adequately prepared for the trip they had planned.”
The search for Jeffery Phan, 24, Michelle Lesaca, 24, and two children, three-year-old Satana Phan and two-year-old Satan Phan, began last Wednesday morning after their car was found abandoned not far from Highway 37 two days before. They were found at 3 p.m. that day, according to RCMP.
A sign had been displayed on the car saying the driver had left to find fuel. However, police say checks with all gas stations in the area had been unsuccessful.
Concern for the family escalated when police learned they had originally planned to travel to the Philippines, but cancelled their flight at the airport in Portland, Ore. just prior to boarding on May 25. The family entered Canada at the Roosville Border crossing near Fernie B.C. on June 9 and reached the Dease Lake area, nearly 2,000 kilometres away, the following day.
The unusual and seemingly erratic series of events led RCMP to issue a province-wide call for anyone who may have interacted with the family to come forth with information on why the family crossed the border in the first place.
Searches from the air by a PEP Air helicopter spotted the family, with search and rescue crews from the Bulkley Valley, Terrace and Stewart contributing to getting the family out of the wilderness.
“I got a call [Tuesday] night from ground search and rescue ground search and rescue [who] were requesting mutual aid in the case of four missing persons. I made some phone calls, got four spotters from my team ready to go for [Wednesday] morning for 7 a.m. with Highland Helicopters,” explained Smithers Pep Air’s Lynn van Cadsand.
Bulkley Valley Search and Rescue kept in contact with PEP Air to point them toward where they believed the family to be. The missing four ended up being found unexpectedly at a hill on the east shore of Kinaskan Lake.
“Right where they didn’t think they’d be found,” said van Cadsand.
Considering the terrain of very thick foliage, van Cadsand said the search was over relatively quick. The family was spotted sitting on a log by the lake, who van Cadsand said were very happy to see the searchers.
“Not that bad when you think about it; when you think about the terrain up there it’s crazy … And then it took a long time because you had to guide the GSAR (ground search and rescue] team through thick bush to get to where the subjects were. And then they had to get an RCMP boat to then come up to get them off the lake,” she described.
Air and ground crews working together is something they do often and well in this region, according to van Cadsand.
“We’re building a new building [by the Smithers airport], we’re looking for funds to build the new building so we can all be in the same building. It makes way more sense. And this just shows how it works because GSAR initiates, and then calls us in to assist; and then we find the subject and guide GSAR in to do the rescue,” she said, adding it is a Bulkley Valley Search and Rescue initiative.
“It’s a perfect blending of resources.”
Joern Alles, Frank Doyle, Greg Miller and Patricia Scott were the crew up spotting with PEP Air. Leslie Ford helped work overnight as an administrator with van Cadsand to get everything ready the night before.
“The guys that were searching when I was debriefing them said if GSAR would have had to search that without PEP Air support, it would have taken them weeks and hundreds in man power,” said van Cadsand.
She added Red Chris Mine also assisted by donating fuel to the helicopter, and had people and a boat standing by to help.
“Everyone worked together for the common good of finding this family, and with everyone’s help it turned out good,” said van Cadsand.
The family is now being supported by partner agencies to help them get to their destination in Alaska.
“There is no criminal investigation and the family is doing well,” said RCMP.
The family has declined multiple requests for an interview.