Searchers will rappel down the face of the middle cascade of Elk Creek Falls this morning as part of ongoing attempts to locate a Deary teen who has been missing since he fell down the falls Sunday.
Clearwater County Sheriff Chris Goetz said the 16-year-old is a student at Deary High School, but did not release his name. He was with a small group of friends hiking around the falls Sunday afternoon when he apparently slipped and went over the edge into a 23-foot-deep pool of water.
“It was raining that day, so all the rocks there would have been slick,” Goetz said Tuesday evening as the county’s search and rescue team was wrapping up the day’s efforts.
He said personnel spent much of Tuesday working to control the flow of Elk Creek by using the spillway upstream at Elk Creek Reservoir. If all goes as planned, the flow will be reduced enough by this morning for searchers to access the area behind the falls where searchers believe the boy might be.
Two locals with experience from previous searches for people who have gone over the falls told the sheriff that the bodies were recovered in that area. One incident was from the 1970s and one was from the 1980s, Goetz said.
Family members brought in additional personal items with the boy’s scent Tuesday morning to help specially trained dogs with the search. The dogs have indicated that the boy is still near the base of the falls, and not downstream.
“Below middle falls, the water gets very shallow and it’s brushy,” Goetz said. “The possibility of him being down through that is pretty slim. I’m not going to say impossible, but pretty slim.”
A helicopter and drone from Back Country Medics have been assisting with the search. There have been about nine people trying to locate the teen, according to incident commander Rick Miller. They include the dog team, a diver and observers with spotting scopes who tried to peer behind the falls Tuesday during the first effort to lower the creek.
The initial report of the incident came in at 3:23 p.m. Sunday and said the teen lost his footing and fell into the water. His friends saw him enter the creek, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office, but lost sight of him as he went down the falls.
Searchers began looking for him that evening, but the helicopter had to leave the area because of low fog. Search and rescue divers were unable to locate him when they entered the pool at the base of the falls Monday, and the helicopter continued to survey the areas around the creek.
The team resumed its efforts Tuesday morning after spending the night at the site, according to the news release. The sheriff’s office has asked the public to stay away from the Elk Creek Falls area until the incident is resolved.
Kendrick Jared, the principal at Deary Junior-Senior High School, said teachers and staff members have been sensitive to students’ needs during the search, and additional counselors have been brought in for those who need support. The district postponed a Monday night volleyball match against Potlatch, and the volleyball team from Nezperce came to Deary for a match Tuesday night so the Deary team wouldn’t have to travel, Jared said.
Elk Creek Falls is popular with hikers for the scenic beauty of its succession of waterfalls through a forested gorge about 4 miles south of Elk River. Goetz said people should always stay away from the edge of the water, especially when near the top of the falls.
“The water looks nice and calm,” he said, “but all it takes is one bad step and you’re in the water.”
Garrett Cabeza of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News contributed to this report. Joel Mills may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2266.