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Search stalls for overdue Arlington hiker in east Skagit County

MARBLEMOUNT — Arlington's Thom McCoy, 61, left his home on Wednesday, Aug. 7, to go hiking in east Skagit County, but he hasn't been seen or heard from since.

"He was reported overdue on Aug. 11, and the Skagit County Sheriff's department launched a search and rescue from his last known location — in this case, from where his vehicle was parked," Skagit County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Sgt. Chris Kading said. "When he failed to return to his car, he was reported missing by family members. This was late Sunday evening (on Aug. 11), and we waited until first thing Monday morning (on Aug. 12) to begin the search."

McCoy told family members that he would be hiking into Found Lake to do some fishing and photography. Found Lake is an alpine lake in the North Cascades wilderness, located 15 miles east and five miles south of Marblemount, with heavy elevation gain on the trail.

"This is very treacherous terrain, and it's really hard to get into," Kading said. "It's a five-hour hike into Found Lake, and the elevation is roughly 5,400 feet. There are places where searchers were on their hands and knees climbing into these areas. We had a significant search pattern all the way from the vehicle. We covered the obvious tracks to where he said he was going to be. The helicopters were very critical, because they saved us from having to hike five hours into the place. Some of the mountain rescuers had to spend the night, because they couldn't get out in time. It's very remote."

Skagit County was aided by Snohomish County Sheriff's Search and Rescue teams, Mountain Rescue searchers, Customs and Border Protection, a private citizen from Snohomish County who used his own helicopter, and members of law enforcement from Snohomish, King and Kitsap counties.

"We searched for three days, both in the air and on the ground," Kading said. "We suspended the search on Aug. 15, having found no evidence of the hiker. We told the family that this search is not closed, simply suspended pending any new leads. He knows the area and he's hiked there before. He's equipped to spend one week in the brush, and we are hopeful that he was able to extend his stay."

Helga Roberts, a friend of Thom McCoy's wife Pam, volunteered her phone number of 206-779-3007 as a contact for those interested in continuing the search from Friday, Aug. 16, forward.

"We must have had 20 different people involved in the search that weekend (from Aug. 16-18), although not all at the same time," said Roberts, who credited local newspaper coverage with helping to recruit at least 10 of those volunteer searchers. "Thom's sons were there that Friday and Saturday, with quite a few of their friends. It's been really encouraging how many people have wanted to help, but so far, we've found nothing."

Roberts reported that the McCoy family has retained Harry Oakes, the CEO and search and rescue coordinator for International K-9 Search and Rescue Services, to continue the search from Monday, Aug. 18, forward. The other volunteer searchers vacated the area by the evening of Sunday, Aug. 17, so that Oakes' K-9 wouldn't be confused by too many competing scents. According to Roberts, the K-9 detected an indeterminate scent at Found Lake, but otherwise, "It's not really going well."

Although Kading reiterated that the Skagit County Sheriff's department search is merely suspended, and not closed, he acknowledged that too many details are being negotiated for him to disclose at this time when their search might resume.

"It's quite frustrating," Kading said. "Usually, there's some evidence that turns up, but we haven't found anything — not a campfire, not a footstep, nothing."

"In the meantime, I just want to thank all those who came out to search for Thom, especially since we might need you again," Roberts said.

A Facebook page has been set up at www.facebook.com/pages/Find-Thom-Mccoy/565647063471664 to provide updates on the ongoing search efforts, which can be funded through online donations at www.gofundme.com/3zu17s.

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