Son, mom lost in Yosemite
Last call from park hotel came late Thursday

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 09/27/05

Xiaodong Yuan's mother was visiting him from China and wanted to see two iconic American tourist spots: Yosemite National Park and Las Vegas.

Yuan, a 34-year-old computer analyst who lives in Stockbridge, and Zhaohui Wang, who had just turned 60, flew to Las Vegas last Tuesday and then drove a rented car to Yosemite. That's where their trail went cold. The two called from their hotel in Yosemite Thursday night and have been missing since Friday. A group of Yuan's friends, an alumni club of a Bejing university, are trying to organize search parties and are pressing for authorities to do more.

"We are coordinating the rescue efforts; it's a big network of alumni working together to help," said Yale Xiao, a fellow graduate from Tsinghua University who now lives in the Atlanta area. "We are really frustrated. Nobody knows if they really left the hotel. They were in contact everyday until Thursday night. Then nothing."

Xiao said three alumni members from the San Francisco area have accompanied Yuan's wife to Yosemite to conduct their own searches. He said the group has been talking about renting a helicopter to perform a search.

Scott Gediman, a park ranger who is Yosemite's spokesman, said officials planned to conduct a helicopter search Monday afternoon if the clouds broke. He said Yuan and his mother planned to drive the well-travelled Tioga Road route from their hotel through the park, a route of about 70 miles. The mountain road reaches nearly 10,000 feet and it's possible the couple's car ran off the road, Gediman said.

The two had planned to drive about 200 miles to Death Valley and then to Las Vegas before returning to Atlanta.

"We've canvassed the roads, we've talked to the people of [the hotel]," said Gediman. "We conduct a lot of search-and-rescue missions but mostly for hikers. Looking for two people in a car is pretty unique.

"There's no indications of foul play," he said. "That's the puzzling thing."

Yosemite made the news in February 1999, when vacationers Carole Sund, her daughter Juli, 15 and friend Silvina Pelosso, 16, disappeared from a hotel located within Yosemite. Their rental car was missing and investigators suspected they were victims of an accident. A month later, a hiker found the burned car, with two bodies in the trunk. A week later, Juli Sund was found, her throat slashed. Four months later, a Yosemite naturalist, Joie Armstrong, was found murdered.

Cary Stayner, a handyman at a hotel, later was convicted of the four murders.