Coffee cups dropped from a Bellingham-based border helicopter helped alert hikers on Mount Rainier that a killer was at large in the national park earlier this week.
The Customs and Border Protection helicopter flew to the mountain New Year's Day to give air support in the manhunt for Benjamin Colton Barnes, the 24-year-old Iraq war veteran suspected of slaying park ranger Margaret Anderson, 34.
While more than 100 law enforcement officers scoured the mountain for Barnes, the Customs and Border Protection helicopter came across a small group of hikers who were camped near Reflection Lakes, said Brian Shawler, deputy director for the CBP Office of Air and Marine.
The terrain was too rough for a landing and the loudspeaker on the helicopter had malfunctioned, Shawler said. The crew improvised: They grabbed a Cruisin Coffee cup that was inside the helicopter and scrawled a warning message on it: "A ranger has been shot. Shooter at large. Call on cell if able to Pierce Co Sheriff."
They dropped the cup from the helicopter; the hikers picked it up and read the message.
It turns out the helicopter crew are frequent customers of the Cruisin Coffee stand on West Bakerview Road, which is not far from the Bellingham airport. So they had the cups when they needed them.
While the method to deliver the message was unorthodox, it worked.
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