The official search has ended for a hiker who went missing in the mountains northeast of Seattle on Aug. 1. But an online search is ongoing, and it’s being powered by volunteers who are scouring drone footage being shot in the North Cascades of Snohomish County, Washington.
Samantha “Sam” Sayers was last seen during a solo outing to Vesper Peak, in which the 28-year-old was spotted at the summit but never made it back to her vehicle at the Sunrise Mine Trailhead.
Huffington Post reported this week on an army of online volunteers who are using digital evidence to try to locate Sayers. That evidence is being provided by Steve Monchak, the owner of PNW Dronetography in Darrington, Wash. Monchak is using a Phantom 4 Pro to fly over and film the mountainous terrain where Sayers was last seen.
At FindSamSayers.com, one page is dedicated to drone footage and featured 16 videos as of Thursday afternoon. The YouTube videos range in length from about 2 minutes to as long as 12 minutes. The rocky landscape is dotted with trees and patches of snow.
The hope is that someone will spot something — an article of clothing or a piece of gear — in an area that may have been inaccessible to searchers on foot.
“The online aspect of this is huge,” Monchak told HuffPost. “I couldn’t do it alone. After you look through a couple hundred images, your eyes get pretty tired, so these people are a great help. They are finding things and notifying us of unusual objects. It just proves we can all work together on the same project from anywhere.”
People using the website are encouraged to submit a clue or a sighting through a link on the site.
According to HuffPost, Monchak has covered about 23 miles of terrain in the three weeks he’s spent helping out. He’s typically hired to photograph weddings and real estate.
“I hike up the mountain and can fly out about 3 to 4 miles from where I am standing,” he told the website. “I can easily cover more area in a day than 100 searchers can, and it’s being done without endangering lives. The drone can cover steep faces of the mountain without having to send someone in on foot, and it can examine crevices without having to have someone rope down them.”
Monchak said hundreds of volunteers have spent countless hours looking at his images and some are even using photo software to identify specific colors of items Sayers had with her when she disappeared.