Search continues for missing park ranger

Posted: Friday, August 05, 2005

ESTES PARK, Colo. (AP) — Crews entering their sixth day of searching for a Rocky Mountain National Park ranger planned to focus their efforts Thursday on an area where gunshots and smoke were reported late Wednesday, officials said.

Park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson said rangers traveled to a part of the 26-square-mile search area after visitors reported hearing gunshots and seeing smoke. One ranger fired his gun in a standard search tactic, and another ranger reported hearing a response shot a few minutes later.

Other rangers later heard a radio signal after rangers fired several more shots, Patterson said.

‘‘There is no confirmation that the responses came from Christensen, but it does raise hope that it could possibly be him,’’ Patterson said.

Searchers planned to camp in the search area to lengthen the time they could work each day. More than 125 people, dog teams and a handful of helicopters worked Wednesday, with more people expected to arrive through the week.

Overcast and rainy conditions Thursday were expected to hamper helicopter searches at higher elevations.

Christensen, 31, is an experienced, fit mountaineer, capable of hiking far and fast. He was last seen by co-workers Friday morning, when he was leaving on a routine backcountry patrol in the park’s vast and rugged Mummy Range about 65 miles northwest of Denver. The search began after he failed to report for work Saturday.

‘‘We feel he would have walked out by now if he was able. We feel he’s injured,’’ said his mother, Chris Christensen.

She and Christensen’s father, Dale Christensen, arrived in Colorado late Tuesday from their home in Forest Lake, Minn. They said they believed the best they could hope for was that their son had a broken leg and was waiting to be rescued.

The task is daunting: There are few designated trails in the search area, where elevations range from 10,600 feet to more than 13,000.

Christensen, who has been a ranger for four seasons, had with him a radio and a backpack equipped with various gear, though he hadn’t been planning to spend the night in the park, park officials said.

‘‘He’s very strong in what he does. He’s good. He’s been doing (backcountry trips) since college,’’ said Christensen’s father, Dale.

Mark Magnuson, the park’s chief ranger, said there were no lightning strikes in the area where Christensen was last seen.

‘‘He’s among the best. He’s fit, capable, strong and has a positive attitude. These are all good skills to have for survival,’’ Magnuson said.

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