William Michael Ewasko, 65, was first reported missing by his girlfriend on June 25 in the Joshua Tree National Park in Twentynine Palms, Calif. Park officials on Friday said the search was temporarily halted in order to rest searchers and prepare for the busy Fourth of July weekend.
"After crews have had a chance to rest up over the weekend, there will be some smaller level of effort to go on," park spokesman Joe Zarki said. "We will have volunteer crews occasionally go out and continue to look for him, particularly as new information becomes available."
It is the first time the desert park has not been able to resolve a missing persons case, Zarki said.
Meanwhile, neighbors in the Arthur's Vineyard subdivision in east Cobb where Ewasko lives with his girlfriend, Mary Winston, are coping with the news. Winston did not return calls by press time for comment. Lisa Macdonald, who lives a few homes away from the couple, said Winston was heartbroken when she was told the search was suspended.
"Everybody is concerned and I'm sure everybody is very sad about it," Macdonald said.
A multi-agency search effort for Ewasko was assisted by more than 100 volunteers, according to the Riverside County (Calif.) Sheriff's Department. They've contributed approximately 1,400 hours of ground search, in addition to air support, dog teams and equestrian searchers.
On June 26, a California Highway Patrol helicopter crew located Ewasko's rented 2007 Chrysler Sebring at the park and a search in that area where the vehicle was located was conducted. But Zarki said no real leads have surfaced.
Ewasko was said to have packed a small lunch when he went hiking alone last Thursday. His girlfriend said he did not call her as he promised to after the hike. He is an experienced hiker and has previously hiked in the park. He also served in the Vietnam War.
Nevertheless, the longer anyone is lost in the park, the lower the survival rate, experts said. Located 142 miles east of Los Angeles, the park has 792,726 acres of desert land.
"After being out for seven days like this - temperatures in that area are anywhere from the low 90s to ... around 100 (degrees) each day," Zarki said. "He's facing a declining probability that good things are going to work out well for him."
In a statement released Friday, acting park Superintendent John Slaughter emphasized that while the park is scaling back search operations, the search is not over.
"We are not done looking for Mr. Ewasko," Slaughter stated, "and we'll keep searching as part of our regular park operations."
Many of the 1.2 million annual visitors go hiking and rock climbing in the park, according to officials.