Hope welled Wednesday as state park workers reported hearing "moaning" near the area where 20-year-old Brett Olson of Lafayette went missing during a weekend float with friends and thousands of other tubers Sunday afternoon.
Olson, a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student, travelled to Chico over the Labor Day weekend to be with friends and take part in the Chico Float, a traditional float down the Sacramento River favored by college students and locals.
Searchers reported to Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park Wednesday morning after employees reported hearing sounds of distress overnight. A nighttime search in low but rough terrain found no trace of the missing man. Olson's parents, Michael and Elizabeth, left their Lafayette home and are on the scene, handing out fliers bearing their son's picture and aiding the search effort.
"This is my son," Michael Olson said as a Chico Enterprise-Record reporter stood by watching him pass out fliers to Chico State University students, many of whom stopped to tell Olson how sorry they were and how they hoped his son would soon be found.
Teams of water- and air-borne rescuers have been on the river looking for Olson since he left a party of friends at a popular party haul-out known as Beer Can Beach at about 1 p.m. Sunday. Butte County sheriff's deputies said they are hoping Olson headed away from the river, although he may be lost in an area of nearly impassable undergrowth along the riverbank.
A sheriff's dispatcher said Wednesday that the rescue effort is focusing on the area where the "moans" were heard Tuesday, but that watercraft and other rescue vehicles are continuing the search along the river.
Glenn County Undersheriff Rich Warren told reporters that rescue teams from California State Parks and Butte County Search and Rescue searched the area, aided by a helicopter, Tuesday from midnight to about 5 a.m. today, Wednesday.
"We'll get the helicopter up as soon as we can, and we're trying to get resources from Butte and Glenn counties to coordinate a search south of Scotty's Boat Landing," Warren told a reporter from the Oroville Mercury-Register.
There still is hope that Olson made it off the river and is somewhere in Chico, Warren said. Olson is about 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, with dark brown hair and hazel eyes.
A Facebook page labelled "Let's Bring Brett Home" had 21,000 supporters Wednesday morning, with Olson's friends in Lafayette and Cal Poly leading the effort to "get the word out" about his disappearance. Several had reportedly left the Bay Area for Chico to help with the search. Others have told Lamorinda Patch they are scouring video shot of the float trip and posted to YouTube to see if Olson was filmed.
Olson had been drinking alcohol, sheriff's investigators said, but friends said he was "evenly intoxicated" and didn't appear drunk when he walked away from them. Olson knows how to swim and is in good health, his parents told police, although he did not take his cellphone with him on the rafting trip.
His parents have said they intend to stay in the area and aid in the search for their son "as long as it takes."