Family of man killed in Salmon River boating accident wants help searching for his body
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CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story said the man’s body had floated 40 miles downstream from its original location. The family has notified us that is not the case. We have amended the story and apologize for the error.
CHALLIS – The search continues for the body of a man who drowned in a boating accident on the middle fork of the Salmon River nearly two weeks ago.
Last Sunday, the Custer County Sheriff’s Office reported Robert Gray, 63, from Mills Creek, Washington was floating the middle fork near Boundary Creek on May 24 when his raft hit a log jam and threw him into the water.
Officials say the accident occurred around 2:30 p.m. The water at that time was running about 5 feet high and flowing at a temperature of 40 degrees.
Gray was reportedly tired and cold. He was unable to get himself out of the river and was carried away by the swift current.
Custer County Search and Rescue initially found Gray’s body around noon on May 25 submerged in a log jam below Boundary Creek. His body was never recovered due to dangerously high water levels.
Since then, the family has been working with search and rescue teams to find and retrieve the body, which hasn’t been successful, as of Friday afternoon.
“Yesterday, we flew the middle fork from Dagger Falls all the way to Loon Creek. That’s 50 miles of river searching for any sign of him. We hovered over the original log jam he was trapped under, which has changed quite a bit. We’ve seen no sign of him,” Gary Gadwa, the incident commander for Sawtooth Search and Rescue, told EastIdahoNews.com just before 5 p.m. Friday.
The family’s biggest concern is that the body will float farther down the river and become lost before it is retrieved.
“We do not know whether he is still in the logjam or has been displaced,” a family member writes in an email to EastIdahoNews.com.
The Search and Rescue team does not have access to a helicopter on a daily basis, which means frequent search efforts are highly unlikely. As of Friday afternoon, Gadwa says the county has already exhausted its annual budget in the search for Gray’s body and there is no one actively searching the river right now.
“We told the family when the water levels drop some, we will be back in there again,” Gadwa says. “We’re contemplating taking a cadaver dog offshore from where the log jam is to see if the cadaver dog can pick up any scent.”
Though the Gray family is grateful to the sheriff’s office, search and rescue teams and the U.S. Forest Service for their efforts, they launched a GoFundMe earlier this week to raise funds for a private helicopter company to do more frequent surveillance.
Gadwa says Thursday’s search was funded entirely by the Gray family.
“Losing our Dad is a devastating loss for our family and knowing that his body is still in the water is even more traumatizing,” the family writes on the GoFundMe page.
EastIdahoNews.com reached out to the family for further comment. They explained in an email that officials have told them boaters and hikers in the area are their best resource.
“We are hoping to enlist the help of the Middle Fork and Salmon River boating and hiking communities to keep an eye out for any sign of Robert, his white helmet, his red life jacket, or his black wetsuit,” a family member writes.
Anyone who happens to find Gray’s body or any of these items can call the Custer County Sheriff’s Office at (208) 879-2232. Pictures can be texted to (208) 993-9391. The family can be contacted through email via firstname.lastname@example.org.