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3 days, 23 miles, and no food, 73-year-old missing rafter tells survival story

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Posted at 4:00 PM, May 23, 2024

VALLEY COUNTY, Idaho — 73-year-old Thomas Gray set off on a rafting trip on the middle fork of the Salmon River on Friday, May 17 that was expected to last just two days, but when three days passed with no sign of Gray, officers took action searching for the man. It wasn't until May 22, five days after Gray initially set off on his trip, that he was found and reported to be safe.

RELATED | Missing rafter found safe in Valley County

After safely returning home to North Fork, Idaho, Thomas Gray told his story of endurance, strength, and survival to the officers with the Custer County Sheriff.

Gray launched his raft on May 17 from Marsh Creek, but the rafting trip would soon take a turn for the worst when he encountered a series of log jams that left his raft disassembled and his leg injured. Stuck along the Salmon River, Gray camped along the bank of Marsh Creek for the night.

The following day, Gray made his way to Dagger Falls and decided to run the falls as he didn't want to keep his wife waiting to meet him at the confluence downstream. He was then flipped and ejected at the base of the falls, but luckily he was able to swim to the shore.

After hiking back up the mountain, Gray realized he could not recover his vessel. He decided to hike toward the Boundary Creek launch site. He decided to stay there due to his leg injury, taking shelter in the outhouse for two nights while keeping watch for other rafters or people who could assist him.

After two days passed with no signs of help, Gray decided to walk towards Fir Creek Pass. He tells officers that he can not recall that third night in the wilderness.

On May 21, Gray was able to find shelter in the Bruce Meadows Snowmobile Club trailer. Inside, he found a wood stove, but no matches. He stayed the night and continued down Bear Valley Rd in the morning. Three miles below the pass, Gray found himself too exhausted to continue. He laid down in the snow after walking 23 miles in the 3 days with no food and only creekwater to drink.

This was when Gray's luck finally turned. Steve and Annie Lentz, owners of Far and Away River Adventures, were heading into Boundary Creek on May 22. They spotted Gray lying in the snow beside the road. The Lentz group had several first responders on board, who immediately began to assist Gray. They identified Gray as the lost rafter from his clothing, and transported him to the Mountain Village where he met with Custer County Deputies.

The public was notified that Thomas Gray was safe and heading home on May 22. Custer County Sheriff Levi Maydole thanks the Valley County Sheriff's Office, Civil Air Patrol, the Lentz, and all who helped give this story a happy ending.