Family of hiker missing for 2 weeks in Mount Rainier pushes for active search

Phil Helsel

The family of a Washington state professor last seen hiking in Mount Rainier National Park two weeks ago is pleading with officials to continue the active search for the man.

Dr. Sam Dubal, 33, a professor in the University of Washington's anthropology department, went on an overnight hike in the park Oct. 9 but did not return to his car as planned the next day, park officials said.

The disappearance touched off an extensive search under challenging weather conditions that included search teams, dogs, drones, helicopters and infrared cameras, the park said Friday.

The remaining areas that hadn't been searched by air were searched by helicopter Thursday, and the park service is suspending ground searches. It will continue to manage the search as new leads arise, a park spokesperson said Friday.

"Searchers have spent long hours scouring the area, and not locating Dr. Dubal is heavy on our hearts," Chip Jenkins, superintendent at Mount Rainier National Park, said in a statement, adding that officials are in close contact with his family.

Dubal's sister, Dena, said Friday that the family is grateful for the efforts and expertise of the park service but is pleading for crews to actively search for the educator for at least 72 more hours.

"We're in a survivable period with a really survivable guy that is young, fit and has gear on him," Dena said in a phone interview.

Dubal was last known to be hiking the Mother Mountain Loop out of the Mowich Lake Trailhead, park officials said.

Dubal moved to Seattle in July for what his sister said was his "dream job" at the university and had been going through a book of Seattle area trails to take in the beauty of his new surroundings, Dena Dubal said. He had recently completed another, more difficult hike in the area, she said.

He is an experienced hiker and had a tent, sleeping bag, rain jacket, cellphone and charger — even an ice ax, she said.

Dubal's family had found hope in the recent discovery of a woman found alive in Zion National Park in Utah after being missing for several days.

Park officials say the search for Dubal is not over, even though ground searches have been suspended.

The family does not expect an active search to last forever, and they want additional aggressive searches to be performed only if it is safe for personnel. But they believe challenging weather may have meant that some areas were overlooked. His family also believes that a water bottle that park officials said was found along the trail last week may be a signal that he is lost off-trail.

Dena Dubal said that weather could clear over the weekend which could give searchers another good chance. "We cannot know for sure, but there is a chance," she said.

"He's an amazing person, and he is so beloved," she said.