JUNEAU -- Search and rescue teams Wednesday re-examined terrain they'd already scoured in the days since 48-year-old Sharon Buis went missing, presumably on a popular nearby hiking trail. But the mystery of what happened to the Juneau woman only deepened.
"It's clear to me that she got in trouble somewhere and in some way, but what that trouble is, I don't know," said Sgt. Tim Birt, coordinating the search for the Alaska State Troopers.
As many as 30 searchers a day have been looking since Saturday evening, but searchers don't even know exactly when Buis went missing. Last Thursday, Buis scheduled a Saturday hike up Mount Roberts with a friend, but she wasn't at home when the friend went to pick her up.
But Buis' car was at the trailhead Saturday, and may have been there since Friday. By Saturday evening, authorities were notified and a ground search was launched.
Coast Guard copters called in
On Saturday, 30 searchers from Juneau Mountain Rescue, Southeast Dogs Organized for Ground Search and others combed the area, and teams have been searching ever since.
Helicopters from the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Sitka and Juneau's TEMSCO Helicopters Inc. scanned inaccessible terrain and dropped search teams into alpine areas.
Buis' Saturday hike may have been intended to access Hawthorne Peak from the Mount Roberts trail, Birt said, and that was an early search focus. But treeless alpine terrain is easy to search, and that was a quick area to rule out, he said.
"We've searched the Mount Roberts trail and some of the areas with a high probably of locating her,” Birt said. “We've searched that area extensively, and we've searched some of the areas adjacent to that, like Mount Juneau. (We) have not located any leads."
Buis, a physical therapist, is known to be experienced in the outdoors, with an extensive knowledge of local trails, he said. She recently returned from an outdoors adventure in Greenland.
Dogs appeared to pick up Buis' scent in two areas, but that provided no further clues, Birt said. Buis' cellphone provider has been unable to locate her phone, suggesting that it is not working, he said.
"I can say with a certainty that she's not on any trail up there, because we've covered all the trails. She's in an off-trail area, that would be my guess," Birt said.
Search to be scaled down
The difficult-to-search forested areas are rugged, and include some steep drops. Wednesday's search focused on revisiting those areas, he said.
There is no evidence of foul play, Birt said.
"I guess when you go into 'what if' I don't know where the limit is, so we've been focused on what we do know and basing or efforts off of that. We do not have any information that there's any criminal or malicious activity involved," he said.
Unless new leads emerge, the search will likely be scaled down further, he said. On Wednesday, about 10 searchers rechecked areas already searched while examining side trails, too.
If Buis is not found she'll be entered into the missing persons database. Her car has been impounded.
Birt thanked local search and rescue volunteers for their efforts Wednesday afternoon, and reiterated advice about leaving information about routes, timing and destinations whenever you head into the outdoors.
Contact Pat Forgey at pat(at)alaskadispatch.com