A private citizen and helicopter pilot who has made a habit of helping Bay Area families search for missing loved ones has joined the Zickel family in Oregon as they embark on day nine of a search for their missing 21-year-old son Riley.
The official search was suspended Saturday night, according to the Sheriff’s Office in Marion County, Oregon.
The helicopter pilot, Jim Higgins, of Chico, joined the search Sunday, taking off about 11:45 a.m. from an airstrip near the Mount Jefferson Wilderness toward an area where Riley Zickel’s family believes he might be.
“So awesome to meet Jim Higgins and see that beautiful helicopter take off,” wrote Riley’s dad, Robin Zickel, in a Facebook post.
The Zickel family was introduced to Higgins through Carrie Morris of Windsor, whose husband, Steve Morris, disappeared on August 2, 2014 while on a hiking trip in the Trinity Alps. Higgins contacted Carrie Morris eight days after Steve Morris went missing on the slopes of Billy’s Peak, high above Stoddard Lake in rugged Trinity County.
When asked what Higgins would charge for the expedition, he said, “I don’t want any money. Just pay it forward someday,” Carrie Morris wrote in a March 2016 news release, recounting the experience.
When Carrie Morris heard of the Analy High School graduate’s disappearance in the Mount Jefferson wilderness, a mutual friend put her in touch with Riley Zickel’s parents. That’s how they got the phone number for Higgins, Robin Zickel wrote in a Facebook post.
Higgins and a co-pilot made two passes over glacier-capped Mount Jefferson Sunday.
“We pray that this is the right location and that our boy is alive,” Robin Zickel wrote.
A search-and-rescue climbing team from Corvallis, which works for free and has been involved in the search for Zickel, began their ascent of Mount Jefferson Sunday and set up their base camp at just under 6,000 feet. On Monday, the team was set to ascend the glacier, hoping to reach their target area by early afternoon, Zickel wrote.
When reached for comment Monday, Higgins declined.
After joining the search for Steve Morris in August 2014, Higgins told the San Francisco Chronicle he “heard about what Carrie was going through and thought, ‘How can I not help?’ ... She needs the help, and there aren’t a lot of people with helicopters who have outdoor experience like me.” According to the Chronicle, he uses his helicopter to install internet and phone equipment in remote areas.
Higgins flew his helicopter low along Billy’s Peak to search for Steve Morris, and was able to find a slide area descending from the mountain where Steve Morris was last seen. At the base of the slide, searchers found footprints. Over the course of 10 months, the search team conducted 21 expeditions tracking Steve Morris’s more than two-mile route down the mountain, eventually finding evidence of a body.
Just months before Steve Morris went missing, in January 2014, Higgins helped out a San Jose family after Dale Smith, a 51-year-old tech executive and four of his family members crashed in their private plane after a Thanksgiving getaway. Higgins towed his Sno-Cat from Chico, and when he couldn’t get any farther into the snowy wilderness, drove the machine itself the rest of the way to meet the search effort.