Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Southern California and far-away places. Hiking, wildlife, cycling etc.

Postby Perry » Sun Aug 25, 2013 5:32 pm

Ric Capucho wrote:Any more *realistic* ideas?

You mean ideas that only involve hiking and nothing else? I'm at a loss.

Does anybody have an RC helicopter/plane with a camera? Is it possible to detect metal, or is there too much noise at larger distances like 50 feet off the ground?
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Quad copter

Postby RichardK » Sun Sep 22, 2013 12:23 pm

Perry - That is an interesting idea. There are plenty of ads for quad copters carrying cameras. How about a quad carrying a small video camera that can transmit live pictures back to ground searchers? Such a combo could cover ground faster than people on foot especially if it were steep and/or rugged. Of course, a flying camera couldn't peek under rock piles, but it might otherwise cover some pretty wide swaths of ground.

Ric - Welcome to the discussion. Now that the weather is cooling, the searches can resume. If the remaining unsearched parts of the SWC area are covered and eliminated, then Bill's fate becomes stranger yet.
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Re: Quad copter

Postby Ric Capucho » Thu Sep 26, 2013 1:15 am

RichardK wrote:Ric - Welcome to the discussion. Now that the weather is cooling, the searches can resume. If the remaining unsearched parts of the SWC area are covered and eliminated, then Bill's fate becomes stranger yet.


Thanks for the welcome, appreciated.

I'm 99.99% convinced he's somewhere in the SWC area, which is weird enough. If he's *not* at SWC then weirdness has to be piled on top of weirdness.

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Postby Ric Capucho » Sun Oct 27, 2013 1:04 am

There are a few more interesting posts recently appeared on Otherhand's Blog. Includes Tom's new theory which has got me scratching my chin.

otherhand.org

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New searches

Postby RichardK » Sun Oct 27, 2013 11:51 am

The entry for JT55 has no clickable link, but you can find it here:

http://www.otherhand.org/home-page/sear ... -10242013/

I have never been to SWC. The pictures I have seen show water in standing pools where animals would be at it. Is there any drinkable water in SWC like a spring flowing from a rock face? If the only water available needs treatment (boiling, filtering, iodine), did Bill carry such equipment? It seems unlikely for a desert hike if he wasn't planning on a refill.

There has been concern for finding a route for Bill from Quail Mtn to SWC that does not ping a cell tower. But, we know Bill's phone was turned off as he drove to the park and as he ascended Quail because it did not ping any towers. Why does Bill need a route that doesn't ping towers if his phone was turned off?

The descent into SWC is described as rugged and dangerous. Would not Bill have been aware of that? We know he was a map guy and that he was in recon in Vietnam. One look at the closely spaced topo lines around SWC tells me the descent would be difficult. Bill would have seen the same thing. Did Bill have any class 2 or 3 skills or was he a basic day hiker?
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Re: New searches

Postby Ric Capucho » Mon Oct 28, 2013 6:42 am

RichardK wrote:(snip)...There has been concern for finding a route for Bill from Quail Mtn to SWC that does not ping a cell tower. But, we know Bill's phone was turned off as he drove to the park and as he ascended Quail because it did not ping any towers. Why does Bill need a route that doesn't ping towers if his phone was turned off?

The descent into SWC is described as rugged and dangerous. Would not Bill have been aware of that? We know he was a map guy and that he was in recon in Vietnam. One look at the closely spaced topo lines around SWC tells me the descent would be difficult. Bill would have seen the same thing. Did Bill have any class 2 or 3 skills or was he a basic day hiker?


And that's the emergency versus no emergency conundrum in a nutshell.

If Bill willingly headed to SWC with his phone switched off, then that infers that the emergency came later, most likely during the dangerous descent into SWC when he'd reentered mobile phone coverage shadow. So why on earth would Bill willingly head for SWC without an emergency? He can read a map (most likely read it intimately, given his recon background), use a compass, and feel the temperature. And he knows he's heading away from his airconditioned car.

If Bill headed for SWC *because* there was an emergency, then why didn't he switch on his phone and call the authorities while he was in a good coverage area, then chew on an apple while he waits for the helicopter to come and pick him up?

And round and round we go.

Tom's latest theory makes the best sense to me, or at least the best compomise between the sensible and senseless evidence we have at hand.

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Postby climbant » Wed Oct 30, 2013 6:26 pm

This entire unresolved case is very intriguing to me, and very strange. I know it isn't unusual for someone to go missing and then be found years later, but this one just doesn't seem to fit. I've read a large amount of the incredible work done by otherhand and the initial efforts and would have also thought this would have been a swift operation. But it hasn't come yet. And the events surrounding it are a puzzle to me.

Why they are a puzzle to me is because all we really know is that Bill parked at the Juniper Flats BCB and had a cellphone ping most likely in the area between SWC and Quail Mountain. Everything else is conjecture. From all I can gather about Bill, never having had heard of him prior to this, I would think of him to be a planner, methodical, and well prepared. He fought in a very tough war which threw the country into turmoil and seems to have done quite well. He was in recon, I've known some of them, when you hit that level you really know your stuff and planning. I've seen several very professional pictures of him, like ones you would expect from a lawyer. But maybe I'm assuming too much since when his girlfriend was contacted she could have accurately guessed anywhere in JT. He left it wide open. And while cell coverage is spotty at best in the park, outside should have been no problem to relay updates.

Based on the vehicle location and ping it is reasonable to expect the trek through Juniper Flats and to Quail Peak. But we don't really know the target. Having been on the north and south side of Quail, through several of the canyons, and Johnny Lang, I know the terrain to be deceptive, it looks easier than it is. But looking at a topo I know that's some rough country. Having a topo, and going for an off the cuff hike I would choose one of the three. 1. SWC by taking the CRHT to its SW side bypassing Quail; 2. CRHT and then X country to the south east ridge of Quail to the peak; 3. Hitching a ride to somewhere north of Quail and coming back to the car via Johnny Lang. The time of the year leaves 3 least likely but still possible as a lot of visitors travel that way to go to the popular Keys View.

But with his experience and the assumption of only 3 "bottles" of water (IIRC) coupled with the heat why would he try any of those? Bill is literally gone without a trace. Other than a random bandana that really provided no clues, and a cellphone ping. Bill has had extensive survival training from the military, but a variation the military adds is evasion and concealment. I think that would explain why remnants of gear haven't been found, Bill would have buttoned up as it was ingrained in him. It's muscle memory. Looking northwest from Quail leaves an expansive view, SWC makes sense but it is a distance and harder than it looks. Also how do you ignore the closer washes that are filled with vegetation. A skilled person would have a reasonable expectation of finding water and the vegetation is a good shot at edibles and exposure protection.

With so little facts we all could go on for hours about possibilities. As a firefighter/paramedic for over 10 years I know cell phone pings are pretty unreliable, not horribly off, but off, and I've had plenty that are very off. If Bill's phone was damaged prior to the ping can that effect the accuracy, maybe a lot? I'm not ready to buy into the alien/government abduction quite yet but I'm surprised otherhand hasn't yet. Reading your blog reminds me off the guys in Spaceballs combing the desert "we ain't found $#*^." I think Bill's out there, very well concealed, maybe some military guys can go and point out "that's where I'd be". My rambling is over.
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Postby Ric Capucho » Mon Nov 04, 2013 12:08 am

Excellent thoughts, climbant, which brings a little more light (ok, ok, this is all conjecture) to Bill's military thinking.

One other thought that your post reminded me of is why Bill didn't take the opportunity to reassure Mary during his trip into JTNP that he'd changed his mind and wouldn't be going to Cary's Castle after all. A switch to the "Lost Horse Mountain" area would have been welcomed by Mary as a great relief, I'm sure.

Now assuming Bill and Mary were in an excellent way, relationship wise, it doesn't make sense that he would leave her on the mental hook; worrying unnecessarily.

So one wonders if the reason Bill left her thinking he was still going to Cary's Castle was so he didn't have to admit to his new plan which was way more risky; basically confessing (by omission) to the lesser sin of Cary's Castle. But then, even if that was true, would the new plan sound more or less scary to Mary seeing as she wouldn't know much about Joshua Tree? Well whether the new plan was more or less risky on paper, we know now it was his last trip, so likely it was.

All this adds a little mental weight (to my mad conjectures, all built on sand) that Bill had a risky plan from the very beginning, and that the walk away from his car (and likely towards SWC) was all part of that plan from the very beginning.

Meanwhile, looking at Tom's latest post, SWC is looking more and more played out as Bill's final resting place.

I'll continue to use my google maps-fu to try and figure out a few options for what fiendishly ambitious plan Tom could have wanted to shield Mary from. A plan way naughtier than a trip to Cary's Castle in that heat? But still achievable (on paper) before sunset?

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Postby Myth » Wed Nov 06, 2013 7:20 pm

RichardK wrote:I have never been to SWC. The pictures I have seen show water in standing pools where animals would be at it. Is there any drinkable water in SWC like a spring flowing from a rock face? If the only water available needs treatment (boiling, filtering, iodine), did Bill carry such equipment? It seems unlikely for a desert hike if he wasn't planning on a refill.

SWC has some water, but think stagnant standing pools and slow seeps, not clear trickling springs. If desperately thirsty, it would be a welcome oasis, but you better get yourself back to civilization before the side effects kick in.

Since Bill didn't register cell pings after his calls, I assume that his cell was turned off until he needed it, and by that time he was out of coverage.

Unless you do specific research, I don't know that you'd know how rugged SWC's slopes can be. Most travels is down in the wash, not coming down the slopes. There are safe places to descend. But you need to have the time to look for them and go down slowly. A simple misstep or stumble can cause you to come to grief quickly, depending on where you are.

The topo lines are stacked in places - a clear warning - but a Google satellite view - or Google Earth - makes the terrain look deceptively benign. A trip or two into the area and you begin to learn what to watch for.

With careful route planning, or a bit of luck, you can avoid dangerous scrambles. And then again, you could cliff out, too. My rule for travel in this area is to never drop down a descent I cannot easily get back up. Not even if the next descent down merely looks easy. Unless it is a drop down onto obvious open and easy terrain, I go around. And this is with a companion! Going alone, I'd be even more cautious. Of course, that is speaking from hindsight.

Ric Capucho wrote:If Bill willingly headed to SWC with his phone switched off, then that infers that the emergency came later, most likely during the dangerous descent into SWC when he'd reentered mobile phone coverage shadow. So why on earth would Bill willingly head for SWC without an emergency? He can read a map (most likely read it intimately, given his recon background), use a compass, and feel the temperature. And he knows he's heading away from his airconditioned car.

I wouldn't underestimate the lure of adventure, or the power of underestimation. Standing on Quail peak, SWC looks … kinda close. The desert can be like a telephoto lens. Distances are flattened due to the general lack of obvious landmarks. Things look close that aren't.

Also, even though Bill did go in July, the first day of his outing wasn't particularly hot. On 6/27, when he was reported overdue, the high was 89F - the infamous "dry" heat to boot. And if he did ascend to Quail Mountain, he would have encountered temperatures several degrees cooler at higher elevation. The low was 57 on that day. Additionally, the area between Quail Mountain and SWC is usually windy. Setting out for SWC can look like a great idea under such circumstances.

If it wasn't for that cell ping, I would consider everything between Quail and SWC fair game. Especially the bottoms of the washes.

And yet, people are capable of more than we give them credit for. On OtherHand's web page there are two such examples - the Death Valley Germans covered a lot of ground in averse circumstances, and Mr. Norman Cox also covered more ground than was initially thought plausible.

Without knowing exactly what Bill took with him - apart from "3 bottles of water" - what size? 500ml? A liter? A quart? A gallon? and some snacks we don't know - we don't really know what he could have thought himself capable of.

My feeling is that he had conceived of a grand adventure, and it went wrong for him. This is mostly based on the fact that I have done my share of stumbling though almost invisible acacias in deep dusk after biting off more than I could chew, trotting uneasily down paths with the wrath of those I told I'd be back hours ago on my mind, and collapsing, spent, in a tent after exhausting myself to roll back miles that I took on when I was still bushy-tailed and eager.

climbant wrote:With so little facts we all could go on for hours about possibilities. As a firefighter/paramedic for over 10 years I know cell phone pings are pretty unreliable, not horribly off, but off, and I've had plenty that are very off. If Bill's phone was damaged prior to the ping can that effect the accuracy, maybe a lot?


My experience with cell pings come from being a dev with an IT group that developed vehicle tracking software. One gross inaccuracy could come from "tower jumps" where a position is established via triangulation, and if towers A, B and C give you a ping for position, and then on the next round towers B, C, and D pinged, you get quite a big jump in location. But in this case, only one tower was involved, Serin Drive. From that I would guess - GUESS - that the distance reported was pretty accurate. I've found the distance from the towers to be the most accurate component. Of course, in this case we have no direction for the ping, and reflection could have played a role in exaggerating the distance.

But I tend to trust the distance reported, even as I wonder how to make sense of it. Extrapolating from there, I would trust the general limit of SWC and its southern slope as a reasonable area to search. It makes sense, except that Bill haven't been found, yet.

I discovered plenty of predator activity in SWC on my most recent trip there. I hasten to add that I don't suggest Bill ran into a predator - but I do wonder whether predator or scavenger activity could have some bearing on the current location and state of his remains and thus on the difficulty of finding him.

If I recall the incident report correctly, the only items we know he had with him would be:

- Daypack, possibly black
- 3 bottles of water
- Some salami snacks and apples
- cell phone
- clothing
- presumably also rental car keys and wallet. I don't recall mention being made of his wallet being left in the rental car. I always leave my wallet in my vehicle ( weight, ahem ) when I head off to a desert hike, and I do think "Well, I should take SOME identification in case someone ever has to stumble across my remains in the backcountry" but I never do take it!

All of these items except the snacks should have survived conditions to date. None of them are easy to spot unless you are pretty close to it.

I'd hike in a bright yellow or orange shirt in the desert, except I've had issues with bees mistaking me for nutrition before. So I stick to sand-colored or grey garments and hope for the best!

Oh, and I carry a PLB. May I never need to use it.

One other thought - this area of JTNP isn't particularly remote. At least, it doesn't feel that way to me. You get clear views of surrounding civilization from multiple points in this area, even if that civilization is actually quite distant if you consider walking there. There is a good amount of traffic through SWC, though probably not in summer. The area south of SWC gets its share of backcountry explorers - I happen upon footprints in all odd corners of the park, and a bit of Googling turn up numerous hiking club organized hikes in the area. Yet, the terrain is easier to traverse in some ways than others. For instance, seeking shelter under a cliff or jumble of boulders may put you outside an easy traverse and thus much less likely to be found later on.
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Postby Perry » Wed Nov 06, 2013 8:36 pm

A couple things to think about:

1. Bill's company was paid on contingency of increasing profits for their clients. How did they determine whether profit increased or not?

2. Bill was about to get married.
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