July 24, 2008
In Fog’s Cloak, a Search for Missing Man: Thacher Park Scoured After Retired UAlbany Professor Vanishes
By David Filkins, Albany Times Union, N.Y.
Jul. 24--NEW SCOTLAND -- Akiho Miyashiro and his wife, Fumiko, pulled into the Glen Doone Overlook picnic area Tuesday a few hours before dark. Rain was drizzling as a light fog crept into the nearby woods. They grabbed their cameras, stepped out of their 1986 Nissan Stanza and began taking pictures of the wilderness. Akiho is a retired University at Albany geology professor, and John Boyd Thacher State Park is about as good as it gets for a rock lover.At 7:30 p.m., the 87-year-old man told his wife he was going for a walk. She stayed at the overlook while he made his way across the rock surface toward a cliff-side trail to the right. He liked to explore on his own, and his walks often were a form of meditation. Wearing a gray shirt and khaki pants, Miyashiro, who is 5 feet 4 and weighs 115 pounds with gray hair and brown eyes, disappeared into 2,400 acres of dense forest.
He didn't come back.
Thacher Park is 15 miles southwest of Albany, on State Route 157.
More than 12 miles of trails wind through the hemlock and white pine and maple trees.
The cliffs, which drop between 100 and 150 feet, are made up of shale and limestone.
What makes the park beautiful also make it dangerous.
In 2002, three people died in two separate incidents from falling off cliffs in the park. Other hikers have gone missing over the years.
After her husband left for his walk, Fumiko continued taking pictures on her own.
Information in this story came from park officials, police, a Times Union reporter who went to the scene and Akiho's neighbors and former co-workers.
At 8:15 p.m, a park official came to shut the gates, and Fumiko told him she was waiting for her husband. Ten minutes later, he still hadn't returned, and they set off down the trail to look for him. He was gone.
At 8:45 p.m., they called police and reported Akiho missing.
At 9 p.m., State Park Police arrived and began canvassing the woods.
At 11 p.m., a dog team arrived and quickly picked up Miyashiro's scent. It lead them down the path for a short distance but the trail soon went cold. It had rained off and on throughout the evening, and rain can make even the strongest scent trail disappear.
The search continued throughout the night, when an occasional bolt of lightning crashed in the woods. Thunder boomed through the forest a few times and light rain left the rocks and dirt damp.
Miyashiro knew rocks.
He retired from the UAlbany Department of Geological Sciences in 1991 after a 22-year career that earned international acclaim. In 1977, he won the Geological Society of America's Arthur L. Day Medal -- one of geology's highest accolades.
He has a mineral named after him.
He keeps a garden behind his home on Stonehenge Drive in Albany and has a goldfish pond loved by neighborhood kids.
He often catches squirrels eating in the garden, traps them and drops them off in Thacher Park.
More than 50 people had joined the search by Wednesday morning. The rain fell harder now, and fog had swallowed the park. The rescuers broke off into groups and worked in crews as small as two and as large as 10. Dogs continued to look for Miyashiro's scent, and rescue specialists rappelled the rock cliffs and disappeared into the mist. Helicopters had been ruled out because of the poor visibility.
At 11 a.m., the rescuers gathered under white tents set up in the parking lot of the Glen Doone Overlook to plan their next move. Maj. Steve Rivenberg of the State Park Police laid out a map and broke the park into zones, assigning rescue teams to different areas of the forest. A park official had ordered more than 100 sandwiches from a deli, and the rescuers ate before heading back into the woods.
Three hours later, State Park Police Chief Richard O'Donnell stood at the entrance to the Glen Doone Overlook with Alane Ball Chinian, regional director of the State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. They watched as a bus carrying 25 more rescuers pulled into the parking lot.
"The conditions are pretty bad," O'Donnell said.
"I know," Ball Chinian said.
"I was just here a few days ago."
"Yeah. I came and looked at how beautiful it was. You could see for a million miles."
A thick wall of fog had replaced the "million-mile" view. Nothing was visible.
Less than 100 yards down the road, a search crew crashed through the woods at the Cliff's Edge Overlook. Rescuers used walkie-talkies to make sure they stayed the correct distance apart.
"Hey, where are you?" a man said as he made his way through the dense forest.
"Right here," a woman said.
"I can hardly see. It's thick, huh?"
A police officer drove through the parking lot on a four-wheeler. Nearby, a man wearing an orange vest walked along the edge of the cliff. He stopped every few feet, leaning forward and squinting as he stared into a thick fog.
"I can't see anything," he said as he placed his hands on his hips and looked away from the cliff. A few feet away, a sign near a stone railing issued a warning: DANGER, DO NOT CROSS WALL, STEEP DROP OFF.
David Filkins can be reached at 454-5456 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staff writer Marc Parry contributed to this story.
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