By James Schugel, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The search for a Minnesota-native and his skiing partner who have been missing in the Grand Tetons has now been switched from a rescue operation to a recovery operation, according to the National Park Service.

Search teams fear the two skiers — Walker Pannell Kuhl of Salt Lake City and Gregory Seftick, an Afton, Minn. native who’s been living in Columbia Falls, Mont. — were buried by an avalanche in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

The men haven’t been seen since last Saturday when they went camping. They planned to climb Grand Teton, which is outside Jackson Hole, and then ski down. When Kuhl failed to return on Sunday, his girlfriend called police, and a search started.

Search efforts Tuesday and Wednesday failed to turn up any sign of them and heavy snow suspended the search on Thursday and Friday. The search resumed Saturday with a search crew of 40 taking the lead, along with a fresh group of search dogs and helicopters.

“The reality is, they’re treating this now as a recovery effort,” said David Francis, a friend of Seftick’s family. “All logic and reality is telling people involved in the search and the parents that this is now a recovery effort.”

Search crews probed the avalanche debris field Saturday using 10-foot-long poles. They act like sonar in the snow, with the ability to pick up a hidden, dense object.

“Our hearts are breaking, but we take solace in the knowledge that Walker was where he most loved — in the mountains,” Kuhl’s family and friends wrote on a website designed in Kuhl’s name. “He was a tremendous person, and we are honored to have had the privilege to know and love him.”

Seftick’s parents flew from Minnesota to Wyoming Wednesday morning to be closer to the search efforts.

Francis knows what they’re going through, because of the phone call he had with them, and also because of his own, personal experience looking for his missing son.

“It took us a year and a week to find Jon’s remains,” he said.

Jon Francis climbed Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains five years ago and fell to his death on the way down.

Seftick’s father reached out to David Francis then, and now he’s returning that kindness with personal advice.

“Be part of the search,” he told Seftick’s father. “Be attentive to the search. Be involved. Ask questions.”

Francis later started a foundation in honor of his son called the Jon Francis Foundation. It helps parents deal with searching for a missing child.

These two sets of parents have been brought together by two unfortunate circumstances.
And now they share one hope: that there will be some sort of resolution to this search in the Tetons for their missing loved one.


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