'This always happens to someone else'

Rescue teams find lost Medford teen after night on Mount McLoughlin
Max Burleigh, 17, who went missing on Mount McLoughlin during a hike with his church group Tuesday afternoon, is escorted by Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger and Lt. Pat Rowland of the Jackson County Sheriff's Department after he was found Wednesday.Ryan Pfeil

Max Burleigh walked into a sea of hugs and relief from family and friends Wednesday afternoon, after he was lost for almost 24 hours in the woods west of Fourmile Lake.

The 17-year-old Medford boy had gone missing on Mount McLoughlin during a hike with the Trail Christian Fellowship youth group Tuesday afternoon.

Search and rescue volunteers on horseback found Burleigh at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday on the Summit Lake trail, just off the Pacific Crest Trail near Fourmile Lake. He was able to ride down with the volunteers to the Fourmile Lake parking lot, then was driven back to Great Meadows Trailhead command post off of Highway 140, where his family was waiting.

Rescuers say a cellphone photograph Burleigh sent helped them locate him. It was a happy ending his mother, Christine Burleigh, wasn't prepared for.

"I wasn't expecting to hear it, honestly," Burleigh said through tears when she learned he was on his way. "I'm ecstatic. You have no idea."

An outdoors novice, Burleigh reached the summit with the eight members of his youth group. During the descent, he drew ahead of the group and became separated. He spent an hour or so trying to find them before calling emergency services on his cellphone at about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Nearly 70 law enforcement and search and rescue volunteers and employees from Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Douglas and Lake counties responded. Air support and Jackson County SWAT team members also assisted.

They searched throughout Tuesday night without stopping.

"We had people looking and calling his name all night long," said Lt. Pat Rowland of the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.

Meeting with searchers after his rescue, Burleigh said he was not able to hear the calls during the night because of the wind, Jackson County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Andrea Carlson said. He'd also slept and may have missed the calls then.

The teams searched on and off the woodland trails, then new team members took over at 6 a.m. Wednesday.

The waiting was hard on the whole Burleigh family, who set up camp at the first Fourmile Lake command post Tuesday and at the Great Meadows Trailhead command post on Wednesday. They all came up the mountain to be nearby after getting word Max was missing.

"Just waiting, there's nothing you can do," Christine Burleigh said. "This always happens to someone else. This is always someone else's news story."

Burleigh's grandmother, Elaine Burleigh, said her intuition told her he was OK.

"I didn't give up hope," she said. "He's such a smart kid. You knew he was going to do what he had to do. You hope you're right."

Max Burleigh's phone was also key in getting help to his location, but not in the usual way. Search and rescue crews tried to lock onto the phone's signal and find him by following it. That didn't work.

"It would not give us a (location) where he was at," Rowland said. "That hurt our operation."

But a photo Burleigh took and sent to his mother with the phone before it died helped lead rescuers to him. It was a picture of Mount McLoughlin's north slope with trees in the foreground. It helped narrow the search field.

"You can make out the razorback, which is where the trail is, and the snowfields," said Cpl. Shawn Richards of the Klamath County Sheriff's Department. "It helped immensely."

Burleigh was dehydrated when found, search and rescue officials said. At his mother's request, he was taken to Rogue Valley Medical Canter for evaluation, and was unavailable for comment.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com.


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