It was Karen Wright’s idea to see if the missing teen could be spotted from the air.
The Chilliwack resident said she learned about the search for JJ, 19, who needed his anti-seizure medications, from a Fairfield Island Facebook page on Sunday (Aug. 29).
Wright thought she’d just take a drive around and search.
Then she had a better idea.
Her husband, John Faulkner, chief pilot for Librico Helicopters, was about to head out to Stave Lake to pick up a crew of passengers. What about asking his crew to keep an eye out on the return flight to Chilliwack, since he’d have the extra sets of eyes aboard?
So that’s what they did.
On the way back home, Faulkner flew over Fairfield Island with the plan to search in a grid pattern around the Bell Road farm that JJ had wandered away from either the night before, or early Sunday.
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“It was a little like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Faulkner said. “The chances are always slim that we’ll find someone this way.”
He orbited as low as possible and swept the area for 15 to 20 minutes. This was on the heels of two hours of extensive RCMP searches, with a police service dog and a helicopter, which did not turn up any sign of JJ.
All of sudden one of the helicopter passengers said they thought they saw him.
A big clue they’d found the right person was that the figure they saw among some abandoned machinery wasn’t wearing any shoes. He also had the same hair colour described in the RCMP missing person report.
“We felt strongly that we had found him,” Faulkner said. The pilot wanted to be extra careful not to spook JJ by landing near him, but instead hovered nearby.
He scooted back to the farm. The passengers tried motioning to the searchers gathered below in the driveway, to show them where they had just spotted JJ.
They were waving to the spot where they saw him, about 350 metres from home, on the back acreage of a neighbouring property to the north.
From above, they could see two searchers walking toward JJ along a path, the “angels” as his mom later described them as they walked him home.
The helicopter hovered for about 10 minutes, hoping it would nudge JJ, who is non-verbal, toward the searchers.
“The strategy worked out perfectly,” Faulkner said.
It all came together in terms of timing, and the community wanting to help.
“Facebook always gets a bad rap but this was a prime example of how having the Fairfield Island community page really paid off,” he said.
They called the sighting of the missing person into the non-emergency number of the local RCMP to no avail, and later Wright texted the man’s mother: “I believe my husband just found your son.”
It’s “amazing” that they spotted him, Wright said, adding:
“It’s just a really happy way to end the story.”
Anna Bonde, JJ’s mother, said her boy had been gone for 20 agonizing hours, and their family is “very thankful” for the community and for their Fairfield neighbours who heeded the call for help.
“To see him walking back home was such a miracle,” she said. “I could hardly believe it was true.
“We all went running toward him.”
JJ was covered in scratches from blackberry brambles but otherwise safe.
He hadn’t taken meds or eaten anything in the hours since his mama found the door to their home wide open that morning at 6:30 a.m.
JJ was finally escorted home by a man and a woman.
“I called them the two angels,” Bonde said.
It was a good feeling to finally set eyes on her son.
“I want to give God the most glory for answering prayers, and the community for being unbelievably helpful, which I had never experienced before,” Bonde said.
“Without the selfless help of volunteers, and above all prayers that were prayed and answered above my expectations, this story could have had such a different ending.”
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