Friday, 12 July 2024

Air search, local expertise helped locate missing Fremont couple

An Air Shasta helicopter sets down at Lampson Airport in Lakeport, Calif., on Saturday, January 23, 2010, after successfully locating Ryan Barrett and Viola Liu, both of Fremont, Calif. The couple had left for a camping trip on Saturday, January 16, 2010. Because of the number of people on the helicopter, two trips had to be made to transport everyone safely from the remote area in which the couple were found near Elk Mountain Road above Upper Lake, Calif. The picture was taken when pilot Dave Everson returned with Barrett's uncle, Richard Jenkins, and two of the couples' dogs. Photo by Martin Pacheco.




UPPER LAKE – Tips from county residents knowledgeable about the Upper Lake area and a helicopter search are credited with helping locate a Fremont couple stranded in the mountains above Upper Lake since last weekend.

Ryan Barrett and Viola Liu, both 31, and their three dogs were located alive and uninjured near their Toyota Tacoma pickup truck at about 3:30 p.m. Saturday, said Barrett's uncle, Richard Jenkins of Corte Madera.

The couple were found near Mendocino National Forest roads in a remote area off of Elk Mountain Road above Upper Lake, Jenkins said.

“They seem fine,” Jenkins said shortly after 5 p.m. Saturday.

After a frantic week of searching and hearing nothing from Liu or Barrett, family and friends of the couple expressed relief and joy at their safe return.

The couple, who left home Jan. 16, had stopped at an Upper Lake gas station later that day, which was one of the few clear clues their family and law enforcement had to go on in trying to find them.

With no reported sighting of the couple, law enforcement didn't deploy search and rescue operations, according to Ginny Bratlie, Barrett's mother.

Bratlie, who had traveled from Olympia, Wash., was working with her other son, Sam, from his Albany home, to muster resources and locate help to find the young couple.

As part of their efforts, the family decided to hire a private helicopter company, Bratlie said.

Jenkins made contact on Saturday with pilot Dave Everson, owner and chief pilot of Redding-based Air Shasta Rotor & Wing, and arrangements were made to do a helicopter search on Saturday afternoon.

Meantime, a Bay Area news station had run a story about the missing couple on Friday evening, and area residents who saw the broadcast contacted the family to give suggestions about where the couple might have gone if they had traveled into the mountains above Upper Lake.

“Without that information, we would have not known where to look,” said Jenkins.

At about 3 p.m. the Shasta Air helicopter with Everson, Jenkins and other family on board took off from Lampson Field outside of Lakeport.

Another pilot with the company, Martin Pacheco, credited Ryan O'Keven with being “the real hero” of the search.

O'Kevin knew the area well and had contacted the family after the news broadcast. Pacheco told Lake County News that O'Keven guided Everson to the Bear Creek Campground and to a campsite where he believed the couple would be, but there was no sign of the pair.

From the Bear Creek Campground, the helicopter followed a snow-covered road toward the ridge. As they flew over the area, they spotted human and dog footprints in the snow that had fallen in the last few days. Pacheco said they followed the footprints until they found Barrett, Liu and their three dogs.

Jenkins said that, within a half hour of the air search beginning, the couple were spotted.

“We actually found them pretty quickly once we got into the area,” said Jenkins.

He said Everson was able to maneuver and land in a narrow clearing to pick up the couple.

Because of the number of people on the helicopter, it took two trips to get everyone back to Lampson Field. Jenkins and a cousin of Barrett's had to get off and wait with the couple's two huskies while Liu, Barrett and their Labrador retriever were transported, Pacheco said.

There were clouds overhead, said Jenkins, and as they were waiting for Everson to return, sleet began to fall.

Jenkins said the couple had driven into the area on Saturday, and has crossed a creek in their two wheel drive pickup. The recent heavy storms caused the creek to rise, and they were unable to get back across it.

At that point, stranded in the snow, the couple found a small shed or cabin, where they had been staying, said Jenkins.

They found a can of tomato sauce in the cabin and were living off of that over the last few days, he said.

On Saturday morning they started to hike out of the area, and that's when Jenkins said they found them, in an area between forest roads M-1 and M-10, which is about 15 miles north of Upper Lake, according to the Mendocino National Forest.

Within hours of their discovery, the couple were on their way home to Fremont. A sheriff's official had traveled to the airport to see if Barrett and Liu needed medical attention, which they didn't, Jenkins said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

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