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Search for missing Avonmore man continues

| Friday, June 7, 2013, 10:42 a.m.
Albert Copper III, 28, of Avonmore, has been missing since about 3:45 a.m. Thursday, June 6, 2013. Copper's car and cell phone were found near the Avonmore Bridge.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dis
Kiski Township Patrolman Scott Ponteri directs an incoming crew of rescuers to where the rest of the group was during a search for Albert Cooper III along Route 156 in Kiski Township near the Avonmore Bridge on Friday, June 7, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dis
Emergency personnel walk along the railroad tracks in Kiski Township in search of Albert Cooper III near the Avonmore Bridge on Friday, June 7, 2013.

A Colorado-based search and rescue unit will search Saturday for an Avonmore-area man missing since Thursday, state police said.

On Friday, about 100 volunteers and firefighters accompanied by dog search teams and police combed a rugged area with cliffs looking for Albert Copper III, 28, of Salina, Bell Township.

Volunteers searched without success Friday around Eagle's Point, also known to residents as Eagle's Nest, and other areas off Hicks Road to Nowrytown.

Volunteers had searched the woods and hillsides and the Kiski River because Copper's car was found in the area Thursday by a co-worker.

At 11 a.m. Friday, emergency radio traffic from the point briefly gave hope to searchers and Copper's wife, mother and other family.

Three members of one search team — of the more than eight hiking teams — had just radioed they had just heard “a gunshot.” A little later, a search team said they heard someone repeatedly yelling, “Hey.”

Then, for about 40 minutes, searchers thought that they might have found Copper's footprints below the point and in a nearby ravine.

But Kiski Valley state police Cpl. James DePaolo said search teams on foot and riding ATVs made several sweeps at the crest and around the bottom of Eagle's Point, all to no avail.

“We had several false alarms today,” said DePaolo, who was part of one search team on the gray, cloud-filled rainy day with temperatures peaking at about 60 degrees.

The search was suspended just before 4 p.m.Copper's mother, Linda Copper, spoke for Copper's wife, Christie, who quietly waited for news. The couple recently had a baby.

Copper has never left his family without saying a word, Linda Copper said.

“He's a family man. If anyone knows anything or sees him: please — please — call right away,” she asked.

The search was challenging for the teams, many of whom had five volunteers and two firefighters with radios.

Experienced ATV riders also were used.

One team was traveling down a hillside when they discovered they needed to rappel the rest of the way — about 100 feet — and another cliff awaited on the other side of a 10-foot-wide shelf.

“It was steep, but we had to check, said Kiski Township Patrolman Scott Pontieri.

Lower Kiski EMS Chief Pete Frejkowski said township police officers received basic rope training from Lower Kiski's rope team and he was able to coach the officer.

Lower Kiski's David Lynch said search and rescue teams included the Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Mountain Rescue Group, Lower Kiski, and the Fayette County Sheriff's Department.

One of Lower Kiski's search dogs was hard at work Friday.

So was Heather Houlahan, a self-described dog trainer-farmer-writer from Harmony. She brought two of her dogs with the Pittsburgh team.

Houlahan said she takes Cole, a 4-year-old, 38-pound dog, to a search area and unleashes him so he can range ahead and try to pick up the missing person's scent.

“When he finds a person, he comes back to me,” she said. “If it's not the person we're looking for, we say OK and go back to work.”

Houlahan's 7-year-old German shepherd, Sasha, awaited in a crate.

A state police helicopter used a thermal imaging camera to search from the air.

A coworker of Copper's at The Royal Flush was alarmed that Copper hadn't arrived at work as scheduled early Thursday morning.

State police said his car, which was found on a gas well access road, was searched, but it didn't reveal any clues about Copper's whereabouts.

Throughout the afternoon, hikers and other volunteers reported to search coordinators.

The crackle of portable emergency radios interrupted the quiet of the area. Grim-faced searchers, obviously tired, went to the Armstrong County mobile command center, got food and took a brief break.

Some waited in the Reynolds Manufacturing lot, on the Westmoreland County side of the river, talking in small groups.Royal Flush coworkers and neighbors repeatedly used the words “nice” and “quiet” to describe Copper.

“He's been at Royal Flush about three months,” said Mike Bell, of Saltsburg.

“He's a good guy,” said Nathan Dello, a coworker from Oklahoma Borough.

Dello had traveled from another job in West Virginia and got home about 3 a.m. to join the search for his friend, according to Dello's wife and fellow searcher, Victoria Dello.

After the others ended their search for the day, Houlahan, Cole the search dog and some other rescue group members headed back up a dirt access road to make one last search.Saturday's search will include Eagle Point and some new ground, a volunteer said.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or

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