Hiking & Trails

Search for missing Sawtooths hiker continues with private effort

The sun sets on the Sawtooth Mountains near the town of Stanley.
The sun sets on the Sawtooth Mountains near the town of Stanley. Idaho Statesman file

The Jon Francis Foundation, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that coordinates searches for people missing in Western wilderness areas, is leading private efforts to find Treasure Valley resident Jack Thomas, reported missing on June 17.

Thomas, 65, was hiking by himself, entering the Sawtooth Wilderness Recreation Area June 13 through the Queen’s River trailhead 7 miles northwest of Atlanta. He was expected to return June 16. He transmitted his location using a personal satellite beacon June 15; he has not been heard from since.

Elmore and Boise county authorities led a several-day search effort involving search and rescue teams from several counties, two private rescue companies and aid from the Idaho Army National Guard. But Monday, the search was called off with no luck finding Thomas.

The Jon Francis Foundation is named for a man who went missing in the Sawtooths in 2006. His parents ended up coordinating a yearlong, volunteer-driven search that located their son’s body about a year later.

The foundation helped last fall with the search for hiker Lucas Richardson, whose body was found in the Pioneer Mountains, and has been involved in about five other searches in the years since Jon Francis’ body was recovered, father David Francis said.

It will follow its usual approach for the search for Thomas: relying on qualified search professionals, supplemented with volunteers as appropriate.

Right now, Francis said, Sawtooth Mountain Guides has members doing a ground search for Thomas. If that fails, the foundation will next try dogs trained to find human remains.

Meanwhile, the foundation is looking for donations and volunteers to aid the search. Donations can be made online at youcaring.com/JackThomas, which as of Wednesday morning had gathered more than $11,700. Volunteers should have experience with a search and rescue unit or be highly experienced outdoorsmen. They will be interviewed before the foundation decides if and how to put them out in the field, Francis said.

The foundation is trying to recruit out of Idaho to minimize expenses to Thomas’ family, he said.

Sawtooth Mountain Guides helped refer the family to the foundation, Francis said. His group also employs grief counselors who are helping Thomas’ family with their loss.

Its goal during searches is to help on both fronts — care for the families of missing hikers, and help answer their questions about what occurred.

“They’re driven to know what happened and lay their loved one to rest,” Francis said.