3 Ore. mushroom pickers missing in Oregon forest

February 2, 2012 - 9:55 PM

Searchers were mystified Thursday that four days of searching has failed to turn up three family members and their dog who disappeared after a day of picking mushrooms in the rugged forests of southwestern Oregon.

"For us not to see all three of them and the dog, we don't know," said Curry County Sheriff John Bishop.

Belinda and Daniel Conne, both 47, and their 25-year-old son, Michael, were last seen Sunday at the Huntley Park campground on the Rogue River about eight miles northeast of Gold Beach, Ore., where they had been living the past eight months since moving from Oklahama, Bishop said. They supported themselves with working odd jobs, glass blowing and picking mushrooms.

The camp host called the sheriff's office to report them missing Sunday night, and on Monday deputies searched the area about two miles from the campground where they were known to hunt for hedgehog mushrooms. They had left two Chihuahua dogs at the trailer, but had with them a friendly pitbull-mix.

When the search area expanded on Wednesday, a deputy found their unlocked 2004 red Jeep Cherokee, with a chain saw and binoculars inside. It was parked along a seldom-used logging road on the western edge of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Two jackets, a backpack and a tote were found lying on the ground about a third of a mile away at the end of a gravel road, Bishop said.

Since then, about 40 searchers, four tracking dogs, and four aircraft have flooded the area, which is bound on all sides by main roads. The weather has been mostly clear and cool, but temperatures were above freezing.

"You could not leave this area without crossing one of those roads," Bishop said.

There was no reason to suspect foul play but the fact that three people and a dog were missing in fairly open country where they could be easily seen from the air is a mystery, Bishop said.

Even if one of them broke a leg, the others could hike out for help, he said. The parents may have had minor health issues, but the son did not.

Bishop said investigators reached Belinda Conne's mother in Duncan, Okla., who said she had last talked to the family about a week ago.

The area is in rugged country riddled with a maze of logging roads in the Klamath Mountains where people frequently get lost or stranded. In 2006, a San Francisco family was stranded in a snowstorm on a logging road about 35 miles northeast of the search area for the Connes. James Kim died of hypothermia trying to hike out, but his wife and children were rescued by a helicopter pilot.