May 28, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

A fisherman lost near Jubilee Lake had a lot to be thankful for late Monday morning.

Martin Jager, 21, of Milton-Freewater, was found following an 18-hour search that involved about 50 people and an Air Force helicopter.

He was fine but a little dehydrated ... He is very lucky, said Gary Koegler, incident commander for Union County Search and Rescue.

Searchers had reason to fear much worse. Jager, who did not have any warm clothing, endured a thunderstorm which included torrential rain and temperatures that dipped into the low 50s. Searchers feared that Jager would get hypothermia.

Koegler said that hypothermia is more common this time of year than during the winter because people often dont bring warm clothing because of high daytime temperatures. They are not prepared for cooler evening temperatures.

Koegler said that Jager held up well because he is in good physical condition. He had been camping and fishing with friends and was due back at his camp by 7 a.m. Sunday.

A search for him started Sunday afternoon. It involved the search and rescue units of Union, Wallowa, Baker and Umatilla counties, the Umatilla Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service, the Union County Sheriffs Department, and a helicopter from Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Wash.

Koegler had feared that many search and rescue crew members would be gone because of Memorial Day Weekend. Fortunately many were home and available to help. Twenty of the people who helped were from Union County Search and Rescue.

Koegler directed the first operational phase of the search from 4 p.m. Sunday to 6 a.m. Monday.

Jan Good of Umatilla County County Search and Rescue led the second phase.

Search crews had a difficult task because Jager was lost in an area filled with fallen timber. All the roads in the area have been closed for years.

It is difficult country, Koegler said.

Jager had a cell phone that was not operating to capacity but nonetheless proved helpful. Jager could call out on the cell phone to 911 dispatchers, but he could not reach other phones or receive calls. Emergency dispatchers relayed information from Jager to people leading the search.

The dispatchers did a great job, Koegler said.

He said that not being able to speak with Jager directly was frustrating

Jagers phone kept searchers from pinpointing him quickly because the terrain he was in did not have distinctive landmarks. When he described an area, it sounded like any of 10 other areas, Koegler said.

A tracking dog from Wallowa County was brought in to help with the search. The dog located Jagers scent but lost it at a point where the lost fisherman had crossed a creek.

The Air Force helicopter arrived at 9 a.m. Sunday.

It definitely helped, Koegler said.

The helicopter was equipped to lift Jager out of the area if he should be found in poor condition. He was found near Luger Springs about eight road miles south of Jubilee Lake.

He was overjoyed, Koegler said

Jager was not the only person who was excited. We were all elated, Koegler said.