A Trail family is counting their blessings after Gavin Ballard was located this weekend and is on the mend at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital.
The 23-year-old Trail man, who was reported missing July 14, was located Saturday at around 6 p.m. in a wooded area in the Pend d’Oreille.
After receiving a tip from the public, investigators located his abandoned vehicle about three kilometres from the Buckley Campground, which triggered an extensive search headed by South Columbia Search and Rescue (SAR).
“I feel like a huge load has been lifted and I would like to hug everyone who took part in finding Gavin — Search and Rescue and the Trail detachment,” Gavin’s grandmother, Georgina Ballard, told the Trail Times Monday.
The Ballard family took search efforts into their hands Saturday when they scoured the region, dropping missing person posters with truck drivers, drop-in clinics and others in the Nelson and Salmo area. When the cold weather moved in, Georgina pulled a sweater on and couldn’t help but think of how long Gavin had been “cold and hungry.”
She never lost hope that search efforts would rule in her favour and is overjoyed she had professionals like Trail and Greater District RCMP’s Cpl. Darryl Orr on her side. Georgina was contacted that same day with the good news.
“Right now I’ve got tears coming down my face,” she said, adding that the hurt and anguish she was feeling is replaced with gratitude.
The relief was shared by Mike Hudson, president of the South Columbia SAR.
Gavin was in “fairly decent spirits, and he was walking on his own” when SAR managed to catch up with him.
“He seemed a little bit dazed and confused, you know he had been out there for a few days and didn’t have any water or food with him,” Hudson said Monday.
“My understanding was that he was eating off of bushes and trees and whatever he could get at, and he was pretty close to a main creek and probably was getting water from there.”
The team’s efforts stalled last Monday when no clues turned up in and around the missing person’s frequented camp in the Sunningdale water tower area. Thirteen members from South Columbia and two from Castlegar spent about seven hours following the entire Trans Canada Trail from Sunningdale to Castlegar in hopes of finding Ballard, who liked to hike.
A total of 21 volunteers pushed through the “torrential downpours, hail, wind, thunder, and lightning.”
The team set up a command centre near the abandoned vehicle, about two and a half kilometres past Buckley Campground, and began by eliminating “common areas” like a natural draw or open clearing.
Three teams tackled this while another quadded further into the bush to set up portable repeaters to improve communication. While at it, articles of clothing were spotted, bagged and the area was marked. From there, the search continued, and crews located more clothing further up.
“With that amount of clothing they had found and the sort of approximate location with how close it was together, we started to put two and two together,” explained Hudson. “Once we got confirmation from the RCMP about the subject’s shoe size and clothing sizes, it was pretty much confirmed that (the clothing) was probably from our subject.”
Efforts traced the trail of belongings with a “circular search” before heading to the higher end of the Pend d’Oreille, not too far off from a road that connects to the water tower in Fruitvale.
“It is a pretty heavily wooded area, very thick brush, which made it very hard to search through,” said Hudson. “Lots of underbrush and stuff and then of course with the poor weather conditions, it was definitely a tough search.”
Gavin was located 4.5 km away from where his car was found and led down to the command centre to receive on-site medical attention while awaiting ambulance and RCMP. He was suffering from exposure and dehydration and was immediately transported to the Trail hospital fort medical treatment, Cpl. Orr noted in a news release.
“He’s doing much better,” Georgina reassured. “He looks better and all and everyone is doing a lot better.”