The miracle 200 searchers on Antelope Mountain were praying for vanished Wednesday when crews found Ray Anderson’s body below a rocky ledge.
Anderson, 46, had been missing since Sunday. The Clark Fork man had gone elk hunting at one of his favorite spots but never returned.
Authorities said it appears he slipped off a wet ledge and fell about 200 feet.
“We tried not to lose faith, but we expected we weren’t going to find him alive,” said George Thornton, one of Anderson’s hunting partners and lifelong friends.
“I knew him and his habits too well to not believe it wasn’t going to turn out bad.”
After three days of scouring the mountain, a U.S. Forest Service team found Anderson’s body about 2:30 p.m.
Bonner County Sheriff Chip Roos said the mountain is full of steep, rocky ledges and Anderson must have lost his footing while hiking.
“A preliminary examination showed severe head injuries and that he probably died instantly,” Roos said.
Anderson was found about 700 feet below the summit of the 4,400-foot mountain northeast of Clark Fork.
It had taken rescuers two hours to hike to the site, so a helicopter from Fairchild Air Force Base was called to remove Anderson’s body.
The 200 searchers who endured rain and snow were called to the base camp after Anderson’s body was found.
They huddled around a search and rescue team member who cried as he gave them the news.
“It was a tough day. There were a lot of tears and mixed emotions,” Thornton said. “We were elated and relieved he was found, but at the same time sad to lose a friend.”
Anderson, who worked for GTE, was not married but his mother lives in Clark Fork. She was at home with relatives who flew in from across the country to wait for any news.
“I just want to thank all the people, many of them we don’t even know, who pulled together to help,” said Anderson’s teary-eyed sister, Debbie Lidht.
Clark Fork residents cooked meals for search crews, and many went out to help search themselves. Anderson’s fellow employees also combed the mountain and GTE even helped pay for plane tickets for family members to fly to Idaho.
“It was impressive,” Thornton said. “There were people out there who didn’t even know Ray Bob busting their butts. They never talked about quitting and never asked for anything in return.”
Thornton and several of Anderson’s other hunting pals searched the same area where his body was found. Thornton said they must have walked right by him several times without seeing him.
It took an experienced Forest Service team using compasses and covering every inch of territory to find him.
“You always want the magic to happen one more time and have a happy ending, but unfortunately that wasn’t today,” Roos said.