Missing Marine likely died of exposure during blizzard in Bob Marshall Wilderness

2012-08-26T17:00:00Z 2013-08-27T17:04:24Z Missing Marine likely died of exposure during blizzard in Bob Marshall WildernessBy EVE BYRON Independent Record missoulian.com
August 26, 2012 5:00 pm  • 

HELENA - An investigation of the site where Noah Pippin died, 18 miles from the eastern edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, makes Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton believe the Iraq war veteran succumbed to exposure.

Dutton said he thinks Pippin, a former Marine described as a large, polite man with a shaved head, was seeking shelter from inclement weather and ducked behind some large boulders in a scree field near the Chinese Wall after being seen near there on Sept. 15, 2010. An icy rainstorm on Sept. 16, 2010, turned into a blizzard during the ensuing days.

“He wasn’t as ill-prepared as we had thought,” Dutton said on Saturday, after using a helicopter to get to the remote site where Pippin died. “We found his sleeping bag, a water jug, his poncho, his hand gun and a small device that plays music (like an iPod). He still had food left, and he did have a map."

“There was no sign of foul play,” Dutton added. “There was an extremely bad storm, and it was readily apparent he had sought shelter under a big rock. He was exposed when animals pulled his remains out from there and scattered them.”

The gun, a 38-caliber revolver, was too rusty for Dutton to determine whether it had been fired. He said it will be sent to the Montana State Crime Laboratory for further investigation.

Dutton said the remains were found about one mile from where the search team was stopped last year by inclement weather, near the head of Burnt Creek and south of Moose Creek. They tagged the remains and put them in bags, which were then turned over to Lewis and Clark County Coroner Mickey Nelson. In turn, he will take them to the crime lab for positive identification, where they’ll also try to determine the cause of death.

Pippin, 30, had served three tours of duty in Iraq, and then joined the Los Angeles Police Department. He quit that job, spent a month in Michigan with his family, and then told them he was going back to California to join the National Guard.

For an unknown reason, Pippin instead drove a rental car to Montana and disappeared into the Bob, walking more than 100 miles in from the western edge near Hungry Horse.

Searchers tried at least three times to find him. An air search was done after he initially was reported missing and the Vern Kersey family said they had seen him near the Chinese Wall, but that didn’t turn up any signs of Pippin.

In September 2011, searchers went into the wilderness after some Boy Scouts found pieces of clothing they thought might be Pippin’s, but instead of finding him they ended up helping a diabetic who was stranded in the wilderness, and an early season snowstorm ended the effort.

On Wednesday, a search party — made up of Kersey; eight U.S. Border Patrol agents; a Lewis and Clark County deputy; four search and rescue volunteers; two chaplains; and Pat Walsh, a detective who had worked the case from the start — hiked with pack horses into the Bob, planning to look for Pippin for seven days.

One of the border patrol agents was Pippin’s brother, Caleb, who went in with the searchers on horseback despite having a broken foot. Dutton said the other agents volunteered to be part of the search team to help their co-worker.

They found the remains Friday, after conducting a grid search, only a mile away from where the previous search was halted last year. Since the Bob is so large — 30 miles by 80 miles — it was like looking for a particular single strand in a head of hair. Dutton said they prepared by using “Lost Person Science” and interviewing people who know Pippin and those who had seen him last to put them in his mindset.

“We wanted to know what he said, how he was thinking and how he acted,” Dutton said. “Vern Kersey was in the grid that first located Noah.”

With permission from the U.S. Forest Service to land a helicopter in the wilderness area, Dutton, three deputies and one search-and-rescue volunteer flew to the site Saturday and removed the remains. The initial search party is working its way back out.

Dutton said he is grateful for the effort made by all of the search party members, as well as to Deputy Uriah Woods, who coordinated the undertaking.

“My sympathy goes out to Noah’s family for his death, but the journey is over to find out where he is,” Dutton said. “The question of why will probably never be answered, but we found him and now the healing can begin.”

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(17) Comments

  1. Smilely
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    Smilely - August 31, 2012 11:30 pm

  2. Jason Maxwell
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    Jason Maxwell - August 31, 2012 11:42 am
    Well Brian let me reiterate myself (last comment didn’t post?) I grew up around my grandpa who spent his life in the Sula Ranger District. I have been to forests and lakes in areas people will never see in their life. I have spent numerous 30 day trips in class 1 areas, I know the importance of leave no trace. (which I believe there is no such thing, but can be limited) I have been days off and away from designated trails and still run across old pop top cans, etc…. With the population of MT growing and tourism increasing incidents like this are going to happen more and more. We both have our opinions and will never agree completely. I take my dirt bike on designated trails, horse people don’t like them. I take my horse on the same trails, hikers don’t like them. It’s all about compromise and people aren’t willing to do that.
  3. Jason Maxwell
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    Jason Maxwell - August 31, 2012 8:54 am
    Brian I understand what the classifications are, I spent my childhood growing up around my grandpa who dedicated his life to the forest service. I've spent numerous 30 day stretches in class 1 areas (where yes, I have seen some type of trash or trace) and have seen areas and lakes people will never see in their lifetime. With Montana's population growing and the number of tourists increasing each year these situations "noisy" situations are going to be more and more. Also, in my opinion there is no such thing as "leave no trace." You can minimize it which is what I think everyone should do, but no matter how good someone thinks they are there will always be a sign. The reality of it is people will never agree. In designated areas horse riders don't like my dirt bike, when I’m on my horse hikers don't like them. I think its ok to do fly overs you don't, at some point there has to be a compromise.
  4. Smilely
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    Smilely - August 30, 2012 5:41 pm
    “Jason MT Native” you have brought up some good points for discussion and for the most part without being too insulting with the exception of “your escape” and “but get over it” but that’s o.k. they are good points for discussion and look how wild I got when I was put on the defensive. To begin with my name is not Mike; it is Brian. And from this point on, I believe we can comment without insulting each other now that we have boiled down the discussion to one focal point which is flyovers and really how disruptive they can be for a lot of people. I would have to start by commenting on your comment “It doesn’t matter how far into the bob and selway I have been there has always been traces of humans.” It appears from this comment that you are strictly an opportunity class two user - meaning you use trails and stay within 300 feet of either side of the trail. I am strictly an opportunity class one user, meaning I do not use trails and have not for over twenty-five years. Trails do not go anywhere I want to go and trails are simply not the kind of experience I enjoy. I can assure you that in all my years of traveling opportunity class one areas not only have I never come across another human being but I have never come across the trace of another human ever being there. Jason, are you familiar with opportunity classes in designated wilderness areas and national parks? Here is just a few interesting facts about opportunity class one areas: “Opportunity Class 1 is a tailless, virtually undisturbed and unmodified, natural environment, in which human-induced impacts are generally not evident . . .this area provides outstanding opportunity for isolation and solitude . . . there is a high degree of risk and challenge associated with traveling in this area, as ALL travel is cross-country . . . Management of visitors will be limited to OFF-SITE . . . Visitor use of this area will not be prohibited; neither will it be encouraged . . . Necessary rules, regulations, and information . . . will be communicated to visitors OUTSIDE of this area . . . Signs will not be allowed in this area . . . Visitor contact by Agency personnel within this area will be reactive (informal and unplanned) . . . NO TRAILS will be constructed in this area . . . and Patrols within this area will be infrequent . . .” Now Jason, Opportunity Class 1 areas are for people who want this type of experience. The opportunity classes are set up not for how much experience a person has (although it is important to possess the proper skills for safety and Leave No Traces Ethics specific to these areas) but what type of experience a particular person wants. In an opportunity class five area for instance, these types of people want picnic tables, toilets and a low amount of risk involved. Now for you it appears that you have been exploring the wilderness areas utilizing opportunity class two areas which indicates you like trails, and a designated campsite at the end of the day where you may like to have a fire at the night and do not mind seeing other people during your trip. Our whole goal in wilderness preservation is first to preserve the resource and secondly to keep different types of visitors apart from each other to avoid conflicts of use. Here are a few confessions of mine being strictly an opportunity class one user (even when I am out for weeks or months alone): I sh*t in a bag and take it home with me, I do not carry soap nor bathe for weeks at a time, I never have fires, I wear only clothes and buy equipment that is black, or neutral or natural colors, if I do travel at all on a trail which may be (and extremely and light-years rare) for the first mile or two at the beginning or end of a trip and I hear someone coming, I will hide off trail so as not to impede upon their experience, additionally I know an orange peel is not biodegradable, philosophically or experientially, for any one that may come by and sees it because that impression is permanently impressed upon THEIR experience, I do not put up my tent before dark and I take it down before the first light, I only sleep on durable surfaces such as rocks, snow or barren dirt, and I never sleep in the same area more than one night, most times 10 miles away at the end of each day. These are only a few and scratch only the surface of Leave No Trace Ethics and are far more crucial to learn and perfect if one plans to travel in opportunity class one areas. Now, I will address the related subject of helicopter or plane flyovers (or landings or dropping things from aircraft which are illegal). You say “People and animals create a larger long term impact on these areas then one helicopter landing” is actually untrue according to the science and surveys. Whereas people and animal impacts are concentrated to a very, very, tiny, minute percentage of our wilderness areas (most wilderness areas are made up of over 80% opportunity class areas = no trails) flyovers not only effect every square inch of a wilderness area or national park but here is a glaring example of where one type of user is impeding horribly upon another type. Just imagine, unless you have experienced it, you out alone (or a few people which is not my style) and hiked and climbed across vast areas with no human contact for say six or seven days and here comes out of nowhere someone seated on a flying platform (that is a helicopter or airplane) with a 500 horsepower motor (a car being merely a motorized platform) sometimes only a few hundred off the trees (you want to talk about disturbing and crushing to the spirit not only to me but to the spirit of the 1964 Preservation Act). Now mind you, there maybe three hundred people on the ground (although not all in the same opportunity class areas) in a particularly large wilderness area (or in Glacier National Park’s case possibly up to a thousand people) that are not only being horribly disturbed by this one aircraft but by the next one and the next one after that. In Glacier National Park there are really loud helicopters flying back and forth all day over the same route because they are restricted to certain areas. My point is, that all this disruption is caused only so a few people (and in some cases one person) can enjoy flying their loud motorized machine many times only a few hundred feet off the ground in vast areas where motorized vehicles are not even allowed (not even the POSESSION of a chainsaw or a bicycle allowed), and unfortunately at a great experiential expense of so many other people. Why if almost all areas in the U.S. can be flown over, there cannot be a small area preserved where flyovers are not allowed (like the 2% that comprise of our wilderness areas)? And I am not talking about high altitude commercial flyovers which would be awesome but unfortunately unrealistic. If smaller planes would flyover more responsibly it would still be a disturbance but a little (so much more) tolerable. The problem is a number of people who ultimately and unfortunately chose to fly over a wilderness areas totally ignore the “two-thousand foot lateral advisory”; they fly at high unnecessary rpms, perform high-speed bank turns, and fly back and forth needlessly over the same area. As a side note, as I have mentioned earlier, the science shows flyovers are the number one “social impact” on national parks and wilderness areas today, which Jason, are not the same as “resource impacts” which you raised to support your argument. You further write “Sounds like your issue is that the wilderness is your escape from civilization and you want to feel like you are alone out there”. Well Jason, that is exactly (besides research and education) why wilderness areas were created in the first place, so that people could escape from the noise and busyness of civilization and have the sense of aloneness. I really wish I had more time (and it may become necessary if you keep this conversation going which in a sense I hope you do although I am crazy busy), I would be pulling quotes out of the preservation act for you. If you have interest in this sort of thing, I recommend you read the Preservation Act 1964 and about opportunity classes because I am for real about these issues as were their authors. My entire life revolves around wilderness preservation issues and I am thankful people came before me that also had a similar passion; otherwise, we would not have the great wilderness areas we have today here in the United States and fortunately many other parts of the world are following our example. I am glad you have persisted in your responses. It is open and respectful dialog which is necessary. Not putting each other on the defense and throwing of one-liners back and forth insulting each other. You are right, I may not have been in area the day this helicopter landed at the foot of the spectacular and magnificence Chinese Wall; but I will assure you there were people in the area and along its flight path that were greatly disturbed by its presence. I wasn’t even there and it should be obvious to any reader that its landing has greatly disturbed me and I can assure you it has disturbed a great many other people who were also not there just by merely reading about it. You say in your comment: “in reality it had no physical effect on you, maybe an emotional one, but get over it.” Well I am not built to “get over it” and I will fight for wilderness preservation (esp. the elimination of, or at least low-impact and responsible, flyovers) until my dying breath; and personally, I do not believe there is a difference between the emotional and the physical; in fact according to science it is our emotional that causes by far most of our physical ailments; so I would have to disagree with you, I believe this landing not only had a profound negative impact on me emotionally but physically as well. It’s kind of like someone who has never been in a designated wilderness area but just feels a lot better about living in general knowing that wilderness areas do exist. Peace and happy “Leave No Trace” travels, Jason. I hope to never to see you, hear you, or know of your present or past presence in a wilderness area and I will always strive to return the favor. Oh and by the way, if you do not respond further you have earned my respect because you commented again on this subject and will not think of you as off licking your wounds.

  5. Jason Maxwell
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    Jason Maxwell - August 30, 2012 9:22 am
    So Mike (im sure that is your real name, correct me if I am wrong) What impact does a helicopter have on a wildnerness besides blowing up some dust and creating some noise? People and animals create a larger long term impact on these areas then one helicopter landing for 20 minutes. It dosn't matter how far into the bob and selway I have been there has always been traces of humans. Doing a few fly overs and landing a helicopter isn't going to have an impact on the area large enough that it won't be back to normal the same day. Sounds like your issue is that the wildernesss is your escape from civilization and you want to feel like you are alone out there and you don't want to hear helicopters and planes flying over. I get that, but you weren't out there that day to hear a "loud, obnoxious and totally unnecessary monstrosity of a machine " and so in reality it had no physical effect on you, maybe an emotional one, but get over it.
  6. Smilely
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    Smilely - August 29, 2012 10:48 am

    Ah “Jason MT Native” I see you are feisty and the least bit concerned of embarrassing yourself further. Let me start by giving you an English lesson. Language works on many levels but two you may have heard in your few scant years of education, levels that are quite main stream, are the literal and metaphorical. Have you ever heard of either of these words and the relationship between the two? Obviously not. I was clearly speaking on the metaphorical level. I never told you to go hide in a corner, nor any specified amount of time, never mind lick any wounds. Do you remember SUBJECT being the metaphorical and licking your wounds the literal? Have I totally lost you yet? Well let me put it to you this way, I told you “licking your wounds” means in the context of my argument, we would not hear from you again on this SUBJECT which we have not. In fact, I don’t think we have ever heard from you on the subject or at least an argument why for or against the use of the helicopter. While on the subject of the SUBJECT, Jason you do not get to pick the subject of the conversation unless you introduce one. The subject from the opening of this comment forum has been and was presented by me is “what's up with the helicopter?????” Do you remember this Jason and understand we are still waiting on your comment about the helicopter? You have mentioned your perception of the condition of our wilderness areas, and you have mentioned several times Noah was a marine neither which have any bearing on the use of a helicopter. I re-read the Wilderness Preservation Act of 1964 for the hundredth time just for you Jason and there is no mention of special privileges of landings and helicopter rides for marines in wilderness areas. Let me teach you something about introducing a subject into a conversation and then supporting your argument with some facts. For example, if you believe a helicopter should have been used in this circumstance you would start out by saying something like “Noah was a marine and I think because he was a marine a helicopter should have been used to remove his bones instead of the seventeen people and twenty-five horse who found him because . . . and here is where you support your argument with facts or your beliefs so other people can comment on your facts or belief. Do you see how it works? By the way Jason, I am sorry to say but I do not think you even qualify to be a dilettante, meaning I don’t think you have ever even “dabbled “ in wilderness preservation issues. Have you ever been in a designated wilderness area? If so which one(s) and how many times? Have you ever read the Preservation Act of 1964? Do you know what a Leave No Trace Ethic is? Please I would love to know if your only interest in this article was the fact that this past man for a fraction of his past life was an ex-marine? Also, when you say “this [subject] isn't about a helicopter landing in the wilderness its about getting a man home to his family”, it’s best you get a grip on the situation there is no man left. He is gone forever, for eternity. All that is physically left are bones not even “the body”. And lastly, I love my children enough that they know with all their hearts I would organize and conduct a thorough ground search and carry them out on foot if necessary; but I also love them enough to protect and preserve for their children, my grandchildren the wilderness in its pristine state that they (my children) so enjoy themselves today while they are alive. We have discussed this subject many times in our home and they are both quite proud of their dad and strongly believe as I do on this SUBJECT.
  7. Jason Maxwell
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    Jason Maxwell - August 28, 2012 8:36 am
    Ohh you got me there I had to go hide in my corner for a minute and lick my wounds.... You are a contemptible person, figures you aren't from here. As a Marine myself and a native Montanan why didn't I think of the whole malitia thing.... stupid me, I could be the leader and eweb753 and Roger could be my cronnies....get some respect, this isn't about a helicopter landing in the wilderness its about getting a man home to his family. But what would we expect from a person who dosn't care about his own children.
  8. Roger
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    Roger - August 27, 2012 8:27 pm
    Yeah - he's a lucky guy - too bad it wasn't you.
  9. Smilely
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    Smilely - August 27, 2012 4:33 pm
    Welcome "Jason MT Native" the next moron and victim to the conversation. Believe me you will go away licking your wounds also, which means we will not hear from you again on this subject. First of all good job looking up the word dilettantes which I am sure you are already one evidenced by the way you express yourself. Second our wilderness areas in Montana are in superb condition now that the federal government controls them. Trust me Jason I know after 35 years in the business that Montana needs to be saved from the Montanans and again I must say we are doing an excellent job of it. And Jason now that you know this, I don't suggest you go out and start a militia or you could end up in super-max in Colorado or on the run as did happen to previous leaders and participants – all native Montanans by the way. And big whippdy doo Noah was an ex-marine the wilds do not care who it swallows and I am sure his family didn’t much care about the marine in him as much as they did a brother or a son. And lastly by the way, I personally have a living will that prohibits anyone from transporting me by mechanized or motorized means if I am injured while in a wilderness area or a National Park (and I sh*t in a bag and take it home with me). Also I purposely do not share my itinerary with anyone prior to short or lengthy solo excursions into designated wilderness areas so that by no means an aerial search would begin. With the National Parks I am forced to file an itinerary but only travel on undesignated camping permits, I do not park a vehicle at trailheads and never check back in at the end of any of my trips. Oh yeah and Jason my son and daughter would be the first and last people to tell you if she or he came up missing in a designated wilderness area or national park and it was up to me to call search and rescue the call would never be made.
  10. Jason Maxwell
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    Jason Maxwell - August 27, 2012 2:30 pm
    I want to joine the ranks of the "dilettantes" as well.... " retired after thirty-five years of working directly with high-level wilderness preservation issues (although I still consult on a full-time basis)" Atleast now I know the reason why our wilderness has gone down hill.... good work the last 35 years. If it was a realative of yours you would have expended every resouce possible looking for them including fly overs and landings if need be. If you say differently you are full of .... !! Who cares if they landed (with permission) to recover the remains of a Marine... he fought for your country and deserves to be home.
  11. Smilely
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    Smilely - August 27, 2012 10:45 am

    Are not any of you people who commented on my comment capable or knowledgeable enough to carry on a semi-intelligent conversation on the real and only issue here, which is flyovers and in this case even far worse – the flyover, the landing and the takeoff of a loud, obnoxious and totally unnecessary monstrosity of a machine right in the middle of a wilderness area and no less but at the base of the world renown Chinese Wall? "eweb753" and "Roger" you are both pitiful with your one-line paw swipes and you "starting over" with your ignorant little swipe exposes you for just how ignorant you are when it comes to wilderness preservation issues. First my use of the phrase “pile of bones”, although offense to some, is reality and further illustrates my frustration (and I can assure you most wilderness users) with the Forest Service for again weakly giving in when they shouldn’t have. And secondly (besides having nothing to do with the issue at discussion) read the article again or for that fact any article on the death of an individual. The reporters always refer to the deceased as “the body” and “the remains”. In fact, in this article alone the deceased is not referred to as a human being in the presence tense after being found, but at least six times referred to as “the remains”. For example “They tagged the “REMAINS” and put them (the remains) in bags. Get a reality check once deceased it is “the body”. I really don’t even know why I have to spell this out for you except to lead you back to the real issue here. The first ethic of Leave No Trace is “Plan and Prepare” and obviously Noah did not. From any tragedy it is best to learn from other’s mistakes. It’s amazing but I can hear all three of your comments now if it was an elite soloing with years of experience and the best equipment that got themselves killed: “Oh, they shouldn’t have gone alone” or “what did that fool think he was doing?” Now to conclude with commenting specifically on the ignorant comment by “starting over”: “Exactly who/what did they disturb with the helicopter? A few squirrels?” This helicopter flyover, landing and takeoff (and flyover again) and the numerous, countless back and forth flyovers in the previous three air searches conducted for Noah were not only extremely disturbing to the many people on the ground in the Bob Marshall Wilderness when all this took place but the many people who just read an article like this and are well aware that flyovers are the number one, largest social impact on our wilderness areas today – and by the way horses are the number two most disturbing social impact on our wilderness areas and always have been. Seventeen people and most likely twenty-five horses (and I’ll bet not one of them used a Wag Bag never mind their horses) went in on this search for “the remains” and not a single Forest Service Ranger accompanied them that I remember reading in the articles to make sure the resource was protected during this high-impact operation. And you “Middle Finger” your comment appeared as I was preparing this comment – is no more on the issue than the other three stooges. “Middle Finger” your comment: “Biting on such flimsy bait from the smiling troll” is childish, unintelligible and means nothing to me. If you call my argument “flimsy” what do you call your little swipe? My expertise is far from being flimsy. I am retired after thirty-five years of working directly with high-level wilderness preservation issues (although I still consult on a full-time basis) and if a “troll” is someone who is passionate enough to take time out of their day to comment at length on such an important issue as the elimination of flyovers and especially landings in wilderness areas then I am a troll. Now all four of you dilettantes - "eweb753", "Roger", “Starting Over” and “Middle Finger” crawl back in your holes and lick your wounds.
  12. MiddleFinger
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    MiddleFinger - August 27, 2012 9:04 am
    Must be hungry rog? Biting on such flimsy bait from the smiling troll.

    Look whose smiling now!

    It's sad that Pippin died, but he couldn't have picked a better place to go on this planet. For that, I count him lucky.

    The best to his family.
  13. Roger
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    Roger - August 27, 2012 7:01 am
    I believe you, Smilely, is the one with no respect - for the victim and his family.
  14. startingover
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    startingover - August 27, 2012 6:41 am
    Exactly who/what did they disturb with the helicopter? A few squirrels? I agree with eweb, you are unbelievable, though I would add completely disrespectful as well. It is not a "Pile of Bones" that was picked up, they were the remains of a loved one. Whats up with your total lack of respect?????????
  15. eweb753
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    eweb753 - August 26, 2012 10:18 pm
    ...you're kidding, right? Unbelievable.
  16. Smilely
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    Smilely - August 26, 2012 9:28 pm
    Things were going good – “the party entered on FOOT”, and they “HIKED IN” – then the Forest Service made the bad decision of allowing the use of the helicopter and land the stupid noisy, obnoxious machine right in the middle of the wilderness for a pile of bones. I am happy for the family to have closure but please people have some respect, what's up with the helicopter?????
  17. MTDoc
    Report Abuse
    MTDoc - August 26, 2012 8:50 pm
    RIP. I hope you found peace.
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