Search and rescue teams located a lost elk hunter in the mountains in north Umatilla County on Sunday.
Richard Braatz, 59, and his son, Michael Braatz, 28, both from Eugene, were elk hunting on Friday in the area around Low Ridge and the Mill Creek Watershed. According to the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office, after Richard Braatz hiked several hundred feet down a steep ridge, he decided to stop and camp alone for the night instead of climbing back up the mountain with his son. He told his son, via their two-way radios, that he would continue to hike down to a lower elevation the next day, and they would meet.
In addition to the radio, Richard Braatz had equipment to start a campfire and a small amount of food, but no tent or sufficient clothing. On Saturday morning, at around 11a.m., Richard and Michael Braatz talked on their radios and all seemed well. But, after Richard did not arrive for their meeting and Michael Braatz could not contact or find his father, he contacted the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office.
UCSO Search and Rescue (SAR) responded and began searching, but was limited because of the darkness, the terrain, and a rainstorm. After talking with Michael Braatz and learning that his father had limited survival supplies, and a history of knee problems, Sgt. Dwight Johnson requested mutual aid from the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s SAR, the U.S. Forest Service and the Oregon National Guard for a search helicopter.
The next morning, the SAR teams searched the very steep and wooded terrain on foot while the helicopter searched the area from the air for several hours. At about 3:30 p.m., the National Guard crew spotted Braatz, who waved his hat, but then appeared to collapse and went out of their sight. Because of his location, there were no searchers on foot in close proximity to Braatz, and hiking to him would have taken hours. Fearing for his safety, the teams decided to use the helicopter to place Sgt. Johnson and a forest service crew member as close to Braatz as possible, which was about 800 feet above his location.
When they contacted Richard, he was disoriented, wet, and had bumps and bruises, but was not seriously injured. He told Johnson that he fell down several times while trying to hike out and his body, especially his back, was sore. He also lost his radio and had no cellular service.
Darkness had fallen as they began to assist Braatz in walking out of the mountains. After about four hours and more than two miles later, they arrived safely at the command post.
“We extend our sincere thanks to our SAR Unit and our partner agencies, including the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Forest Service and especially the Oregon National Guard,” said Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan.
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