Dead hiker misidentified at Craters

Caving experts join the hunt for the other woman, still missing at the national monument.

kterhune@idahostatesman.comSeptember 28, 2013 

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A canine team is loaded into a Teton Interagency Fire helicopter Friday to be taken to the Craters of the Moon National Monument site to help in the search for Dr. Jo Elliott-Blakeslee.

PROVIDED BY TRACI WEAVER

  • NEW DOGS JOIN THE SEARCH

    Several fresh search dogs arrived midmorning Friday from Idaho Mountain Search and Rescue to replace dogs that are tiring.

    The dogs are being flown into the areas they search to spare their paws from having to cross any more of the rough lava rock than necessary.

    The jagged lava that make up most of the Craters of the Moon monument slices the pads of the dogs' feet. The rough terrain is tough on human searchers as well, spokeswoman Traci Weaver said, but they are better prepared with boots.

    Officials are hoping the dogs will be able to pick up Linkert's trail. Although the monument has had others visitors and teams of searchers, Weaver said the dogs may still be able to distinguish the missing hiker's scent.

    "Tree Mold Trail has been covered by a lot of people, and I think they'd have a hard time picking up the scent there, but we have them out south of that area," she said.

Officials said the news about the mistaken identity is not changing the plans for their search.

Spokeswoman Traci Weaver said Amy Linkert is the woman whose body was found Wednesday. Her friend, Jo Elliott-Blakeslee, is unaccounted for after a hike last week at Craters of the Moon National Monument's Tree Molds Trail.

The Butte County coroner found clues Thursday that required further help in making a positive identification and asked for the aid of the state medical examiner, Weaver said Friday.

Dental records showed that the body recovered on Wednesday belonged to Linkert, not Elliott-Blakeslee, as officials had announced Thursday morning.

Linkert, who would have turned 70 on Thursday, was a retired special education teacher with the Meridian School District. Elliott-Blakeslee, 63, is a physician who works at the prison in Ontario.

Ground crews shifted their focus Friday, the fifth day of the hunt, to the hundreds of caves that dot the Craters of the Moon.

Elliott-Blakeslee has been gone since Sept. 19, after she and Linkert went for a day hike. They were due back in Boise on Sept. 21. They left their dogs, purses and cellphones in their truck, parked at the Tree Molds Trail head.

Linkert was found Wednesday night in a lava field about a mile from the trail and a couple of miles from the trail head parking lot.

Officials say Linkert may have gone for help and gotten lost or disoriented and died of exposure. Her companion might have gone into one of the monument's caverns for shelter.

"That's the most likely place for (the missing hiker) to be if she's sheltered up, is in a cave somewhere," Weaver said.

As temperatures dropped, she might have drawn deeper and deeper into the cavern, seeking warmth, Weaver said.

About 45 searchers combed the park for Elliott-Blakeslee on Thursday. Two experienced cavers joined the search, along with seven search-and-rescue dogs. Although rescue teams have looked through some of the caves, having experienced people join the hunt is helpful, Weaver said.

"It's a lot of ground to cover, so it's great to have those experienced resources," she said. "We're able to go a little more in-depth and search more caves now that we've got people focused solely on that."

About 300 caves are known to be in the park, and Weaver estimated that there might actually be 3,000.

Rescue crews are looking first in the caverns where a hiker would most likely have sought shelter. Once those caves have been searched, the teams will move on to others, Weaver said.

Searchers also are trying to determine the path Linkert took before she died, Weaver said. Retracing her steps could lead searchers to Elliott-Blakeslee.

Monument officials say they still could spot the missing woman in the open. Overcast skies and fog grounded the search's three helicopters Thursday, but the weather cleared Friday, and helicopters were again patrolling a grid, scanning for any signs of the hiker.

It was an Army National Guard helicopter crew that sighted Linkert's body at dusk Wednesday. Weaver is confident that if the other woman is visible from the air, they'll find her, too.

"It's cold, but it's clear and there's no wind. It's a good day for searching," she said Friday, before that day's search came up empty.

The search will continue Saturday with more than 50 searchers, including eight dog teams and a crew of 21 firefighters, Weaver said.

Katie Terhune: 377-6219

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