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North Fork man safe after missing for several days on Salmon River

CUSTER COUNTY, Idaho (KIFI) — 73-year-old Thomas Gray has always loved the water. In his 46 years of rafting experience, he has even worked as a river guide. Despite this, he did not expect what would happen when he set out on a weekend trip Friday, May 17. What was supposed to be three days of rafting and camping along Marsh Creek in Stanley turned into nearly a week of grueling survival.

"Praise God, God got me through it."

Thomas Gray

Gray was in the mountains from Friday to Wednesday morning, taking challenges head on as they came. One unexpected element of his adventure was the number of logs on the water. These obstacles made it nearly impossible to pass in some areas, ultimately causing him to injure his leg, become separated from his raft and lose all survival equipment.

"I've floated Marsh Creek every year since 2011," Gray said. "I've never had problems with logs before blocking the river."

By Saturday night, Gray's experience became a lot like an episode of "Alone." With no food or clean water, he drank from the creek and ate snow for hydration. For fear of freezing to death in his sleep, Gray walked night after night just to keep his blood flowing.

"I started what was for three days, not sleeping for three nights," he said.

Lori Gray is used to not hearing from her husband during his adventures but became worried when he did not return home on Sunday as planned.

"At that point we started feeling like, well, this is probably it this time."

For the second time in 2 years, she called for a crew to search and rescue her husband. The Custer County Sheriff's Office, Valley County Sheriff’s Office and Civil Air Patrol aided in the search. Gray was eventually found collapsed in the snow along Highway 21.

"I get up on the road and, Praise the Lord, it was a jeep party coming in to work on the Velvet Falls."

Thomas Gray

By this point, Gray had not eaten for 4 nights and had walked on a sore leg for over 20 miles to increase his chances of being seen. He is grateful to be home and reunited with his family.

The following is a timeline of events as pieced together from Gray's frist-hand account and records from the Custer County Sheriff’s Office:

Friday, May 17 – Gray sets out on Marsh Creek. He encounters the kayakers after being thrown out of his raft. They assist him. He camps the night along the creek.

Saturday, May 18 to Sunday, May 19 – Gray arrives at Dagger Falls and decides to run the falls. He is thrown from his raft again, hurting his leg. This time, he is unable to relocate the raft and loses all survival equipment. He decides to camp in an outhouse at the Boundary Creek Launch site, walking all night to keep from freezing.

Due to the leg injury he sustained on Marsh Creek, Gray stayed at the launch site, finding shelter in the outhouse for two nights, keeping watch in the daytime for other floaters on the Middle Fork who could assist him.

Monday, May 20 – At 3:51 p.m., the Custer County Sheriff’s Office received a report of a punctured cata-raft being found on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

Gray remains at the Boundary Creek Launch site.

Tuesday, May 21 – After two days of not finding help, Gray decided to walk towards Fir Creek Pass. He was able to find shelter in the Bruce Meadows Snowmobile Club trailer.

At 9:16 a.m., Custer County Search and Rescue was activated by Sheriff Levi Maydole. Valley County Search and Rescue sent a two-man kayak team to float Marsh Creek. The team was unable to locate Gray.

Custer County Sheriff Deputies also searched the launch site on Hwy 21. Civil Air Patrol flew the river from Boundary Creek to Indian Creek several times but were unable to locate Gray.

Wednesday, May 22 – Steve and Annie Lentz who own Far and Away River Adventures headed into Boundary Creek. They spotted Gray lying in the snow alongside the road. Gray was alerted by the sound of the vehicle as the occupants discovered him.

The Lentz party had several first responders on board, who immediately began to render aid. They identified him as the lost boater due to his attire. They transported Gray to the Mountain Village where he met with Custer County Deputies.

At 11:30 a.m., Steve Lentz notified Valley County Sheriff’s Office which in turn notified Custer County Sheriff Maydole that Gray had been located and was safe. Custer County Marine Deputy John Haugh and Custer County Deputy Levi Mitchell were able to meet Gray at the Mountain Village Restaurant in Stanley, Idaho. Marine Deputy Haugh gave Gray a ride to Custer County Sheriff’s Office where was reunited with his wife.

ORIGINAL: A North Fork man is waking up in a warm bed Thursday morning after he went missing for several days on the Salmon River. 

73-year-old Thomas Gray was rafting on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River last Friday, May 17.

He put in at Marsh Creek and was expected to make the two day trip to the confluence of the main Salmon River on May 19.

Gray is an experienced rafter, so when he didn't make it to the check point, search and rescue teams were called in to bring him home. 

According to the Custer County Sheriff-Idaho Facebook page, Gray is safe and sound at home. They say Gray will share his story of how he survived later Thursday. 

Article Topic Follows: Idaho

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Ashley Chilcutt

Ashley is a reporter and producer for Local News 8.


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