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Lost, not found and what we can learn from it

Through an unsolved case, Back Roads Bill reminds us to be prepared when we venture outside

At the best of times looking for a lost person is a difficult task; the goal is to look in the right place to find lost subjects faster. There is the mystery of where the lost person might be.

Lost Person Behavior by Rober Koester is the cornerstone for search and rescue efforts. It is a valuable guide to Search and Rescue (SAR) personnel and the public in general and was contacted.

“Every searcher in the field applies the final and perhaps the most important aspect of search planning -where to look,” he said.

Koester readily admits this is only half of the SAR equation, “we must then know how to look; another SAR topic.”

“Ultimately,” he said, "lost person behaviour can only provide probabilities, not certainties.” 

Sgt. Don Webster is a contributor to this book. Now retired from the Ontario Provincial Police his bio is impressive. He was a police officer for 34 years. As an Emergency Response Team (ERT) member, he was involved in a ground search for missing/lost persons for 18 years; personally involved as a searcher/search manager in more than 50 searches.

He was OPP Provincial SAR Coordinator for nine years where his duties included training ERT members and outside SAR agencies. And as a leader and decision-maker, one of his important duties included reviewing difficult searches before terminating police involvement or when to call it off.

Sherlock Holmes is a fictional private detective created by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Known as a 'consulting detective' in the stories, Holmes is known for a proficiency with observation, forensic science, and logical reasoning that borders on the fantastic. For police officers with the same skills, there are some cases that never go away and are hard to displace.

One case, in particular, has never left him. Sgt. Webster often thinks of Christina Calayca.

The twenty-year-old disappeared from Rainbow Falls Provincial Park located between Schreiber and Rossport, east of Thunder Bay, on the north shore of Lake Superior, where she had been camping. Before she went missing, Calayca had obtained her degree in early childhood education and was working at a daycare in the Yonge St./Eglinton Ave. area. She had planned to go back to York University to become a teacher. She was last seen by a friend as they parted ways during a jog on Aug. 6, 2007.

Newspaper articles at the time she described her in the following words. 

Christina Calayca has one of the widest, happiest smiles I have ever seen along with a twinkle in her eye that makes her whole face sparkle with life.

Christina was not a rugged outdoors type person according to family members and it is a mystery to them that she would be jogging at the Rainbow Falls Provincial Park.

Calayca set off from the group's campsite with one of the men intending to go for a jog along a highway outside the park. But she quickly realized she couldn't keep up with her friend and decided to pack it in. She may have gone for a walk within the park on her own along a trail that leads to Rainbow Falls while the man carried on out to the highway. She has not been seen since. At the time, police described the area where she went missing as ‘one of the most rugged’ in the province, including thick brush and cliffs up to 240 metres high.

She vanished.

Sgt. Webster said,

“Based on Bob Koester’s research, Christina was classified as a “hiker” for determining the search area," Sgt. Webster said. "This category was determined based on her plans for visiting Rainbow Falls Provincial Park plus her activities the morning she went missing.”

He cites many of the search management procedures identified within Lost Person Behaviour

“Despite Christina Calayca not being located nor any clues being found, this complex search brought out the importance of search management principles as identified in Bob’s research, including the importance of establishing an investigative and operational component; thorough completion of a Lost Person Questionnaire (LPQ); establishing a search area based on the profile behaviour of a 'lost hiker' segmenting the search area into manageable areas; applying a statistical method in determining the probability of detection (POD); understanding the Probability of Area (POA) X Probability of Detection (POD) = Probability of Success (POS); establishing a Command Post (CP) and having a plan and sharing relevant information at regular meetings between investigators and searchers and the media.”

This process was undertaken and reviewed during the search period.

“I could talk for and write for hours about this case. In my 18 years of experience in searching for lost/missing persons, there were only two cases where no clues were found. Calayca was one of those cases," he said. "To this day, I think of her often. Just before I retired I met her family in Toronto to see if I could learn anything else that may assist with the investigation."

During the interview, he said, “I have a large personal binder of information that I compiled on this case. Given your interest in searching for lost people, you would find it fascinating to read the information I compiled surrounding this case and the efforts made by both professional and volunteer searchers. The case is still open so there is some information I could not share.”

Unfortunately, no physical clues were found to support Calayca as a lost hiker.

“This case is a real mystery and complicated. Complications were brought on by the rugged terrain, Calayca’s history of poor spatial awareness and an independent witness. Having said that, it must be remembered that, ‘absence of a clue is a clue.’ To further explain this statement, if no clue was found within the designated search area of the “hiker” profile then it can mean the following possible scenarios; Calayca is not in the search area because she walked out of it into the Rest Of The World (ROW) and the Probability Of Detection (POD) as determined by the search methods/resources was not high enough or Calayca fits a different profile, for example – abduction.”

Detective Work

In Lost Person Behaviour, Robert Koester wrote the following.

An experienced search planner must take everything into consideration, avoid common pitfall, separate fact from fiction, and strike the correct balance between the specific individual and overall statistics.

Informants can paint some interesting pictures.

Don Webster discovered one that might be the answer to this unsolved case. He recalls one of the most important aspects of the investigation.

Ms. Callayca had previously been lost.

During the search, information was discovered by the investigating officers completing the Lost Person Questionnaire (LPQ) for a profile.

The incident occurred in a conservation area in Durham Region near Oshawa. With some others the group had become lost on a hike. They eventually wandered out to safety.

It was reported by friends Ms. Callyaca wanted to return to find out where they had made their mistake.

Based on the Durham incident and Calayca’s experiences of living in Toronto, one important personality trait became apparent, she had very poor spatial awareness which included a poor sense of direction.

At Rainbow Falls, this poor spatial awareness issue would have been compounded and possibly resulted in poor ‘decision points’ being made if she became lost on a trail.

He attended the search to review what had been done and provided input as the Provincial SAR Coordinator.

I felt the search was well managed by Northwest ERT. Calayca was reported missing approximately three hours after she was last seen.

Before the police were called, friends and park employees conducted a cursory search of the park area.

The police responded immediately with numerous uniformed officers, ERT members trained in SAR plus canine. The search resources expanded relatively quickly to include helicopter, fixed-wing aircraft, divers, marine, and trained SAR volunteers. Cadaver dogs were also used towards the end.

I can’t remember the percentage, but the POD was relatively high after two weeks of searching the 'lost hiker' search area. Could it have been higher, 'yes.'

Sgt. Webster had to call off the search after 17 days of searching the 575-hectare park.

“Although there were no physical clues, there was a reliable independent witness statement in my opinion that could support Calayca was a 'lost hiker'."

Her family and friends continue to search the park intermittently for clues or remains.

Reading a mystery novel is an enjoyable pastime but the non-fiction, families of missing victims will never forget the loss of a loved one, regardless of the passage of time; there is no closure.

There are also those who serve and protect when it was needed and wonder as well. Living within the unsolved mystery is another thing altogether when you can’t find what you are looking for.


Bill Steer

About the Author: Bill Steer

Back Roads Bill Steer is an avid outdoorsman and is founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre
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