Although our mission so often is fraught with sadness, we press on to bring closure to those left behind. Searches are always a team effort but Great Basin K9 SAR is especially proud to have been instrumental in bringing Annie Schmidt home to her loved ones. Here is our handler Joe's first hand account of the search. Joe is a retired USMC officer and veteran of the Vietnam War. His K9 partner is Gunny:
Many of the photos below were taken by Lydia McGranahan who went along with the dog teams during the search (posted with permission.)
Annie Schmidt is the daughter of Jon Schmidt of the Piano Guys. She was a beautiful young woman with a loving spirit. Annie was last seen on Oct. 16th and was reported missing on Oct 19th. Her car was found near the Bonneville Dam in the Columbia River Gorge. It was assumed that she had gone hiking in the steep and rugged mountains south of the river. Various search and rescue teams and hundreds of volunteer searchers looked for Annie for two weeks without finding a trace. The official search was called off after two weeks. On November 10th, the 241st Birthday of the Marine Corps, my K9 Gunny led to her recovery in six hours. Here's the story:
We were contacted by a representative of the Schmidt family on November 7th who asked if we would help in the search. They offered to pay our expenses and had obtained permission from the Multnomah County Sheriff for us to search. Gunny and I, along with another handler and dog from Great Basin K9 SAR, Paul and K9 Taylor, flew on the 9th to Portland - Gunny's first plane ride - where we met up with six other dog teams from Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
We started searching early on the morning of the 10th. I was fortunate to be assigned Lydia McGranahan as a flanker. This young woman is an avid hiker with extensive knowledge of the search area. After searching some areas down low we headed up to the north facing flank of Munra Point. Based on advice from Lydia we decided to search across the face at the 800 foot level which would put us below the cliffs which went up for over 1,000 feet.
The terrain on the face was like nothing I have ever worked before. The slope was very steep, 35 to 40 plus degrees. It was essentially a scree slope with loose rock with a rain forest growing on top of it. The footing was treacherous and there were many fallen trees and other obstacles to be dealt with. Gunny was working very hard since he not only had to deal with the terrain but he was using his nose to search at the same time. These photos give you a good idea of what the terrain was like.
After about an hour and a half I saw Gunny start to point his nose up hill and then start to work his way up the slope. I tried to follow but he was leaving me behind. Fortunately, Lydia was much more fit than I and she stayed with him. Gunny led us up about 400 vertical feet and showed every indication that he was in strong odor. As we got close to the cliff face Gunny lost the scent. We looked up and could see several heavily vegetated ledges, a couple of which were overhanging. We moved back down the hill to the point where Gunny was in scent again and at this point he went to his final alert indication. We contacted the team that was searching the top of Munra point and they moved to a point above us and confirmed that their dog had interest up there as well. We assumed that she had fallen and was caught up on one of the ledges above.
The next morning we sent another dog team, Liz and her German Shepherd/Malinois Reu, up to where Gunny had alerted the day before. With the wind blowing from a slightly different direction, they were able to find Annie's remains just a few yards downhill and to the east of where Gunny had alerted. To quote Lydia, "Reu's nose lifted and off he went straight up the mountain following the same track the other two dogs had done. The wind was just right on this morning and Reu turned towards the east near the cliff base. I followed closely behind him trying to keep up. Communicating back to Liz what her dog was doing. And then....Reu found her. I was right behind him."
Sorry for the long-winded discussion but I am very proud of what Gunny did. He worked his nine year old butt off and wouldn't give up. He did exactly what he was trained to do and, as a result, he has brought some measure of consolation to the family at a very difficult time.
Note: Coincidentally, Joe and other GBK9SAR handlers had tested Liz and Reu for field readiness under the Tri-State testing standards just the weekend before this search. The dogs did just what they were trained to do that day.