Jack Thomas, 66, was hiking in Idaho's Sawtooth Range at the time of his June 2016 disappearance
The remains of an Idaho man who went missing seven years ago while hiking have been found, according to authorities.
Jack Thomas, 66, of Nampa, went missing in June 2016 during a hiking excursion in the Sawtooth Range, a mountain range of the Rocky Mountains, KTVB reported. At the time of his disappearance, authorities said Thomas was last seen wearing a grey CamelBak backpack, high-top hiking boots and a San Francisco Giants cap as well as carrying an ice axe.
Det. Max Sprague of the Boise County Sheriff’s Office, who was involved in the latest search, described Thomas to PEOPLE as an avid outdoor hiker.
“He's done a lot of that in his life,” he said, “and he really just enjoyed being out in this area of the Sawtooths…He actually had a GPS spot with him, and so he hiked in. It was probably about 15 miles, he had got to the south fork [of the Payette River], and he hit the locator button on his spot. So that sent out the ping of where he was at."
“And then he was never heard from again,” Sprague continued. “What the people who [orginally] went in looking for him [thought] that he had to cross that river twice and they feared the water got him—he went down the river in the water,. Or that it was pretty bad weather."
"He could have gotten hyperthermia and died. Where they originally started searching for him, they were probably about a mile and a half away from his body. But he was half a mile off the trail," Sprague added. "Nobody had any idea that he was off the trail like that.”
In an interview with the Idaho Statesman published Monday, Boise County Sherriff Scott Turner said that backcountry hikers discovered some of Thomas’ personal items last month, which included a wallet and some clothing.
A search involving the Boise County Sheriff's Office, the Sawtooth Outfitters, U.S. Forest Service and Idaho Mountain Search and Rescue led to the discovery of the man's skeletal remains, which were located over the Boise County line, per the newspaper. In addition to the remains, a GPS device and a daypack were also found.
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Sprague recalled to PEOPLE about the discovery of Thomas’ remains, some of which were still left on the site. “It basically got to the point where it's like, ‘Hey, guys, we don't need to collect anything else. I think that we have enough to establish his identity.’ And I felt just by learning a little bit about him--if he was going to want to die, this is where he would want to die in. I kind of actually felt uncomfortable trying to pick all of his remains up and take him out of there.”
The detective believes Thomas was on the Benedict Lake trail when he wanted to check out the upper lakes, so he deviated from the trail. When he came back down to the trail, according to Sprague, “there was some kind of a tragic event that happened…I don't think he was in distress. I don't think he was delirious. I think he knew right where he was at."
"He had a [GPS] spot with him. He could have pushed that any time and got some help. So I think whatever happened was an immediate tragic event that incapacitated him," the detective added. "I don't know if he died from the injury, but he most likely would have died that night just because it was so cold.”
Boise County Coroner Pam Garlock told the Statesman that Thomas “probably succumbed to hypothermia due to a fall.”
Sprague recalled speaking to Thomas’ family following the discovery and explaining to them what may have happened to Thomas and why the search crews didn’t retrieve all of his remains. “I was a little bit apprehensive in telling them I didn't pick up all of him,” he told PEOPLE. “We didn't have the room to collect everything. And I felt uncomfortable removing him from there.”
He added: “I personally felt really good about saying I didn't want to bring him down…because I think that's where he wanted to be. [His wife] actually started crying, her daughter started crying– ‘That's exactly right. That's where we wanted him to be.’ And I said, ‘He's got one of the best views on Earth.’ And I think that made them feel good.”
Sprague said Thomas’ iPod, which was recovered during the search, still worked, so his family was able to listen to the playlist he made while hiking. “They also said he was fanatical in taking photographs,” he said. “So right now, I'm in the process of trying to get the phone in the condition that we can recover anything off of that phone. But they said he loved taking pictures. And they said it would most likely tell his story about his adventure.”
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