Hiker felt called to Colorado mountains after terminal diagnosis. She vanished there

Svetlana Ustimenko was struggling with the revelation that she was terminally ill, and something about the serene Colorado mountains was calling to her.

Perhaps she felt she might find some peace in the tranquil peaks in Grand County — so she left her home in Broward County, Florida, and took a rental car to the Deadhorse Trailhead in the Arapaho National Forest, near the town of Fraser, sheriff’s officials in Grand County said in an Aug. 22 post on Facebook.

And then she vanished.

Sheriff’s deputies and a U.S. Forest Service officer went to the trailhead July 31 to look for signs of activity after her rental car had been parked there for quite a while, officials said. It appeared the car had been untouched all that time.

The forest service officer learned the car was supposed to be returned to the rental company on Aug. 10 — but that day came and went, and the car stayed at the trailhead, officials said.

So they started looking for Ustimenko. Officers, a search and rescue team, and a dog rescue team searched for two-and-a-half days around where the car was parked.

Grand County Search and Rescue set out on a three-hour “small reconnaissance search” on Aug. 18, and officials started another extensive search with dog teams on Aug. 20. More than 25 people showed up for that search, along with six cadaver dogs, officials said.

“This was the second full day search conducted that yielded no clues or signs of Svetlana,” officials said. “Grand County Search and Rescue has a high degree of confidence that Svetlana is not within the primary search area.”

Volunteers spent more than 750 hours helping law enforcement staff search for the missing woman in her mid-50s, to no avail, officials said. Photos show volunteers with dogs combing unforgiving alpine landscapes for any sign or scent that might lead them to Ustimenko’s location.

“Despite the use of ground rescuers both on and off-trail in difficult terrain with steep slopes, deadfall and thick brush, the use of multiple dog teams, Sheriff’s Office Investigators covering terrain on horseback, and aerial assets (drones) on multiple days throughout the last week, we have still been unsuccessful in locating Svetlana Ustimenko,” officials said.

Authorities suspended the search until any new clues or information pops up, officials said. If authorities identify areas “of higher probability,” Grand County Search and Rescue might run “small scale” searches.

Officials said they want to hear from anyone who might have seen, talked to or given a ride to Ustimenko. They’re confident someone may have come across her since the Deadhorse Trailhead is a popular spot among hikers, mountain bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

Although they’ve called off the active search, authorities are still investigating, officials said. Anyone with information should call the non-emergency dispatch number at 970-725-3311.

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