Army lieutenant found dead after going missing in Washington

Army Lieutenant Brian Yang

Hayley Day

The Daily News, Longview, Wash.

A young, fit hiker was found dead on Mount Whittier, a Mount St. Helens summit, Wednesday, after being reported missing for nearly three days.

Brian Yang, 25, was an army lieutenant and preparing for an ultramarathon, but despite his fitness and training did not return to his base by around 10 p.m., Monday, when Cowlitz County deputies received a call about his disappearance.

Local law enforcement and fitness groups are reminding hikers to stay in groups and notify people of their whereabouts if they venture out alone.

Cowlitz County deputies report Yang appeared “to have fallen 200 feet down a very steep embankment,” after a group of hikers discovered him unresponsive around 2 p.m., Wednesday, “on a ridge below them.”

Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office Chief Criminal Deputy Troy Brightbill said rescue crews located Yang’s car near the Coldwater trailhead around 3 a.m., Tuesday. Police report he likely headed to the area alone on Sunday.

More than 200 U.S. soldiers, as well as deputies from the Cowlitz County and Skamania County sheriff’s offices and Cowlitz County Search and Rescue crews, searched for Yang.

The FBI and U.S. Airforce provided assistance to pinpoint a search area by using the last location Yang’s cell phone signal hit a nearby tower. Crews used drones and helicopters to search overhead.

Yang was stationed at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, located southwest of Tacoma.

“1st Lt. Yang touched the lives of so many within our organization and will be sorely missed,” said Lt. Col. Alan Fowler in a statement from the base. “Brian was an exceptional soldier and leader, but an even better man. His absence has left us all devastated and our sincerest condolences go out to the family, friends and soldiers affected by this tragedy.”

Safety

Yang was discovered on Mount Whittier, an area Brightbill said “can be a pretty dangerous,” with “loose rocks.”

President of the Longview-based Mount St. Helens Hiking Club Bruce McCredie described the Mount Whittier trail as a “narrow trail that goes on a steep hill.”

“I was on that trail about 10 years ago, and I would never do it again,” he said.

McCredie said the club has safety rules to prevent accidents during the organization’s roughly two regional hikes a week throughout the year.

Hikers are divided into groups of three, depending on endurance, and each group receives a two-way radio to maintain communication on the roughly 4- to 12-mile trails. Hikers also carry a satellite radio beacon that can release a distress signal to authorities. The group hikes up to six hours at a time, often without cellphone service.

McCredie said they have never used the satellite beacon, but have briefly searched for members after they took wrong turns — despite strong efforts to stay together and remain in communication.

“Safety is first in this club,” he said.

Brightbill said deputies participate in at least “a handful” of rescue searches for missing hikers annually. The number has decreased over the years as technology, like cellphone coverage, has expanded, he said.

He advised hikers not to go on trails alone. If they do, give others a location and an estimated return time so crews can “have a head start on where to look” if hikers get lost.

Brightbill also advised to research the area before hikes, prepare for wind and “very large swings in air temperature” on the mountain, and bring a first-aid kit.

“There are plenty of ways to get injured out on the trail,” he said.

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