RUMNEY — The largest search effort in the state this year for a missing person has concluded after five days with no sign of a North Carolina man. Hugh Armstrong, 72, visiting with 11 members of his family for a week's vacation near Stinson Lake, went out for an early morning walk Wednesday and has not been seen since.
Armstrong, who grew up on a farm and spent a career in business, is not known to have any physical or mental health problems and is considered a strong walker. But he is not familiar with the locale or its rugged terrain.
He was wearing sneakers, eyeglasses, a white baseball hat, shorts and a T-shirt when he left the family's rental unit at Hawthorne Village. He had no cell phone, food or water with him.
Family members said he went out with a plan to walk the 5.2 miles around the mountain lake and return home by 9 a.m.
By 12:30 p.m. that day, after driving the dirt roads surrounding the lake and not locating him, searchers were called.
By Saturday, more than 90 volunteers responded to the call and joined line search teams, said Fish and Game Lt. Jim Kneeland, who is in charge of the search.
Others brought food to a American Red Cross relief station set up at the White Mountain Ranch on the northern shore of the lake, while others who lived in the area took to the woods behind their homes to search for some sign of the man.
Kneeland said the volunteer efforts were complemented by the largest professional effort by far this year, more than 20 conservation officers, the State Police Special Emergency Response Team with dogs and a helicopter, the Army National Guard helicopters and organized volunteers, including New England K-9 Search and Rescue, Pemi Valley Search and Rescue and local fire departments.
Bill Taffe, who heads up Emergency Medical Services for the town of Rumney, was manning the ambulance after several days of line searching.
He said he has never seen such a large and lengthy search for a missing person in the town.
“It's anybody's guess” where Armstrong is, he said. “There's lots and lots of theories.”
But Kneeland said by now, he would have expected Armstrong to “pop out” of the woods somewhere if he was able, though he conceded “these are big woods.”
The effort began with hasty teams and bloodhounds then proceeded to grid searches near the Hawthorne Village and spread out along the edge of the road down toward the lake and up above the lake.
As each day went on, the teams went further afield with teams focusing on river drainage above and below the lake, surrounded by steep hills.
On Sunday the focus was Mead Pond, above Stinson Lake, with five line search teams out in the woods.
Saturday the focus was in the area of Stinson Mountain, a two-mile hike from the trailhead, while others searched toward Ellsworth on and off a number of roads.
“This is our last big day,” said Kneeland Sunday, noting there would be no requests for volunteers on Monday.
He said he would give helicopter crews, who have been hampered by low cloud cover, a few places to look in the next few days.
The weather has been primarily in the 70s and 60s, with some heavy rain showers.
Asked if he thinks Armstrong is out there, Kneeland looked up above the lake and said, “I think I do.”
He said that the family has been briefed daily of what is going on and what the plan for the coming day is. They were informed Saturday night that the search was concluding Sunday.
“They took it well. They really do appreciate the locals that have jumped in to line search and helped in any way they could,” Kneeland said.
He said when there is spare time, conservation officers will continue to search the area for Armstrong.
He still remained hopeful.
“It might be what it takes is a good samaritan out in the woods” to find Armstrong.
Those who believe they may have seen Armstrong are asked to call 846-3333.