Ricardo Sainz, 11-04-04

Powerful current sweeps biologist away
SEARCH: Federal worker was swimming from skiff to shore; rescue efforts to resume today.

Daily News staff

(Published: November 5, 2004)

A massive search was launched Thursday morning for a 42-year-old U.S. Forest Service biologist who was swept away in a current while working on a lake near Ketchikan, officials said.

As of nightfall, no sign of Ricardo Sainz had been found, according to Alaska State Troopers, who participated in the search along with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Forest Service and Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad.

According to officials, Sainz and two colleagues had been staying in a Forest Service cabin in the Bakewell Arm area, about 40 miles east of Ketchikan. On Thursday, the three federal workers rowed a small skiff with no motor across Bakewell Lake to retrieve some gear on the other side, said trooper Gary Webb. The skiff got caught in a strong current where the lake drains into a creek and the occupants decided to swim for shore because they knew the creek led to a 50-foot waterfall, Webb said. Two of the workers made it to land. They did not see what happened to Sainz, Webb said.

The accident occurred around 11 a.m. and searchers quickly descended on the area. "At one time we had three helicopters in the air searching," Webb said.

The efforts were called off for the night when darkness set in, but rescuers planned to go out again at first light today, Webb said. A 41-foot rescue boat and its crew planned to spend Thursday night anchored at the lake so they could get an early start, he said.

Temperatures in Ketchikan hovered around 40 degrees Thursday, Webb said. Waters are high from heavy rains all week, he said.

Sainz's wife, who lives in Ketchikan, and his brother, who lives Outside, have been notified, Webb said.

"We're hoping that he made it to shore and that he just needs to be found," Webb said.


Searchers continue hunt for biologist
DAY THREE: No signs of scientist who went into Bakewell Lake.

Anchorage Daily News

(Published: November 7, 2004)

Searchers spent another day Saturday looking for a 42-year-old federal biologist missing in a mountain lake near Ketchikan since Thursday morning when he tried and failed to swim ashore from a rowboat.

No sign of Ricardo Sainz had yet turned up, Dennis Neill, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, said Saturday afternoon as light was fading.

The searchers, many of whom are spending nights on two boats anchored in Bakewell Arm about 40 miles east of Ketchikan, will begin looking again today at first light.

Saturday offered them the first day of clear skies since Sainz vanished about 11 a.m. Thursday, Neill said.

The area of the search is concentrated but forbiddingly rugged, Neill said. It includes the foot of Bakewell Lake, a four-mile-long finger lake in Misty Fjords National Monument; the gorge where the lake water flows out and down a mile to Bakewell Arm; and all the adjoining shoreline.

Within the gorge is a 35-foot-high waterfall.

"The gorge area is steep, fairly heavily wooded and hard to search," Neill said.

Sainz, a Forest Service fisheries biologist who's worked in the Ketchikan area for 13 years, was flown into Bakewell Lake last week with another biologist and a fisheries technician, Neill said. The names of the other two have not been released.

The three men were at the lake to dismantle for the winter parts of a fish ladder and weir in the gorge, according to Neill. Thursday morning, they took a rowboat from the Forest Service cabin on the lake over to the outlet, tied up the boat along the shore and descended to the weir, where they collected a camera, small computer and other gear.

They climbed back to the boat and started rowing across to the cabin. Because of heavy rains, however, the lake was high and the current at the outlet was strong, Neill said.

The current caught the skiff, he said, and the men feared it would carry them down the canyon and over the falls.

"So they ... apparently decided they were close enough to shore to get to shore" by swimming, Neill said.

Neill was unsure exactly how far they were from the bank. Two of them, including Sainz, jumped into the water and began swimming, he said. The other stayed in the boat until it snagged on logs leaning from the bank into the water and slowed enough that he jumped ashore, according to Neill.

He and the other man who made it ashore saw nothing of Sainz. The boat worked loose but eventually got tangled up on logs down the canyon, said Kevin O'Connell, a board member of the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad and an incident commander for the search.

The Rescue Squad, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Forest Service and Alaska State Troopers began searching for Sainz on Thursday. But searchers could not get near the canyon then or on Friday.

"The water level in the lake was extremely high, causing the creek to run pretty severe, so searching in the creek itself was impossible," O'Connell said. "And along the creek it was impossible due to the terrain, the steep canyon walls."

Saturday's improved weather, however, offered hope, and searchers concentrated both on the creek banks and on the beach down at Bakewell Arm, according to Neill.

They also were expected to use an underwater camera.

Altogether, about 15 people are searching, said Neill. They walk along the creek and through the canyon to Bakewell Arm and then get flown back to the lake by helicopter, he said.

"We're treating it as a rescue," Neill said. "Until we have reason to treat it another way."

Relatives of Sainz's wife, Yolanda, have joined her at their Ketchikan home, Neill said. Forest Service officials also have been visiting her.

Daily News reporter Peter Porco can be reached at pporco@adn.com or 257-4582.


In Brief - (Published: November 8, 2004)

KETCHIKAN - Focus of search for biologist is below waterfall

The search continued Sunday for a missing U.S. Forest Service biologist near Ketchikan. The biologist, Ricardo Sainz, was swept away Thursday by currents on Bakewell Lake, about 35 miles east of Ketchikan. Sainz and two other Forest Service employees were attempting to retrieve equipment from a fisheries project when they abandoned their skiff to avoid going over a 35-foot waterfall. The two other employees made it to shore.

Searchers from the Alaska State Troopers, the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Service and the Forest Service are using an underwater camera and concentrating their efforts on the area below the waterfall after discovering articles of clothing belonging to Sainz in the vicinity, Forest Service officials said Sunday.

-- Anchorage Daily News