Rescuers reach Paynesville grad on snowy Wash. mountain ledge

PAYNESVILLE -- A 2009 Paynesville Area High School graduate was found uninjured Thursday on a snow-packed Washington mountainside after being missing for two days.


PAYNESVILLE -- A 2009 Paynesville Area High School graduate was found uninjured Thursday on a snow-packed Washington mountainside after being missing for two days.

Late in the day Thursday, four skilled rope climbers reached 21-year-old Ezra Thompson where he had been stranded on a ledge at about 6,700 feet in rugged terrain in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington.

Chelan County (Wash.) Sheriff Brian Burnett said in a news release Thursday evening that search and rescue ground crews found Thompson in good spirits and that he will be able to walk on his own when he is brought down from the rocky bench where he spent the night.

Due to the very difficult terrain, it is estimated it will take the rescue team approximately two to three hours to bring Thompson to safety.

After Thompson was first spotted in the mountains by a search helicopter earlier Thursday, Chelan County Sheriff's Lt. Maria Agnew said in a telephone interview with the West Central Tribune that Thompson was "in rugged terrain that's usually reserved for intermediate and advanced hikers."


Agnew said the outcome for Thompson is "definitely positive" but that the conditions of the terrain were making the rescue slow-going. "It's just taking some time," she said.

"It'll be a nice interview when we get him out of there," she said.

Agnew said the rescuers would have to hike with Thompson to reach a landing zone that would be safe for helicopters, which then would take Thompson and the rescuers to safety.

The landing zone is approximately a one-mile hike from where Thompson was located, and it took the rescue team about 1½ to two hours to reach Thompson.

Sheriff Burnett said that the rescue team and Thompson are prepared to spend the night if they lose daylight prior to reaching the landing zone.

The sheriff said the primary concern is the safety of all involved, and there is no urgency as Thompson is doing well and is not injured.

Thompson's family remained in Paynesville and had been keeping in contact with the Chelan County Sheriff's Office via email and telephone, Agnew said.

Thompson's parents are Jay and Laura Thompson of Paynesville. They did not grant interviews Thursday.


Ezra Thompson was snowshoeing near Stevens Pass to reach Holden Village, a Christian retreat center in a secluded mountain valley that's typically reached by ferry boat and bus ride up a winding road. He was reportedly going to be working or volunteering to clear trails in the area. He apparently got into an area that he was unable to traverse.

Thompson, who was one of the top academic students in the class of 2009 and the recipient of the Lions Youth Service Award, participated in cross-country, band, drama and the chess club while in high school.

But he was reportedly not an experienced mountain hiker, and his skills didn't match the challenges of the territory.

Agnew said Thompson was hiking in a snow-packed area that had become vulnerable to avalanches because of heavy snow and recent rains.

"He found the one safe spot, which is good," Agnew said.

She said helicopters equipped with winches for hoisting people to safety could not be used Thursday because of severe weather in the area.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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