by Wire Service and Emmett Gienapp / Times Free Press
UPDATE: The National Park Service is scaling back the search for Jackson Standefer and LouAnn Merrell, focusing efforts downstream from where the pair were swept away while hiking in Grand Canyon National Park five days ago.
Searchers are combing the water with an inflatable motor raft that was flown into the park and if they still cannot be found, the effort will be limited starting Friday, according to a news release.
“If no additional information is discovered or received today, starting Friday April 21 the search will continue in a limited and continuous mode focused on public outreach and search efforts during regular backcountry patrols,” read the release.
Merrell is the wife of Randy Merrell, the co-founder of the Merrell Boot Co., a popular outdoor footwear maker.
The area has been scoured by search and rescue teams over the several days. The park service has also been using a helicopter and an unmanned aerial system to cover areas that are inaccessible to ground crews.
Robin Martin, a National Parks Service spokeswoman, said search and rescue missions are a common occurrence in the Grand Canyon, but they typically involve an injured hiker who is extricated after only a few hours.
“We have over 200 search and rescue missions a year here. Not all of them are multi-day,” she said. “This is definitely a bigger effort than normal.”
The Associated Press reported the park’s nearly 2,000 square miles saw 1,000 medical emergencies, 15 deaths and 318 search and rescue incidents in 2015. It was also reported that the area where the family was hiking is a remote section near the North Rim, an area that draws only a fraction of the canyon’s visitors.
Jackson’s mother, Julie Standefer-Merrell, posted on Facebook to update friends and family while putting to bed any rumors that that the search had ended.
“The search has NOT been called off. It has been pulled back to a limited search which means that there will be a few people on the ground and through today a boat still in the water,” she wrote.
“Please know the family is not giving up hope and faith. Please continue in your prayers for Jackson and LouAnn. I am hopeful for a miracle.”
She said she was leaving one side of the canyon to return to where the search began.
“I will be there for a while so I can be close when we get any news. I need some time to pull myself together to be able to come home and I pray I don’t have to without my baby boy,” she wrote.
Jackson’s uncle, Mark McOmie, also released a statement Thursday afternoon praising the Chattanooga community for an outpouring of support and prayer.
“We thank the Chattanooga community for the tremendous amount of support we have received during this hard time,” he said. “It truly helps to see so much support and feel so much love by so many. The people of Chattanooga are amazing.”
On Thursday, a billboard bearing a photo of Jackson and the message “Pray for Jackson” could be seen on Hixson Pike.
Jim Tanner, a spokesman for McCallie School declined to comment on the search itself, but said faculty and staff at the school have been working with students who know Jackson.
“We have been focusing our time and our efforts on our boys that we have on campus and making sure they have the support they need,” he said. “I don’t know that we as a school have ever dealt with a situation like this.”
“We’re all concerned. We’re a family and we try to run our school as a community of brothers. And that’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to lean on each other and help each other as best we can.”
PREVIOUS UPDATE: The National Park Service announced that it was calling off the search for Jackson Standefer and LouAnn Merrell Thursday morning.
Standefer and Merrell have been missing in the Grand Canyon since Saturday evening.
Standefer’s uncle, Mark McOmie released a statement: “The families would like to thank everyone for their tremendous out pouring of love, prayers and support throughout this tragic ordeal. Please respect both families’ need for privacy as they come to process and seek God’s comfort during this difficult time. We believe families are forever and we will be reunited with our loved ones.”