A Lakeland High student was found dead of apparent exposure Sunday, hours after getting lost and then separated from his two snowboarding companions.
Working in rain and wind, searchers found the body of John C. Neff, 16, of Athol, on the west side of Rathdrum Mountain.
“The closest house was probably five or six miles away,” said Lt. Skip Rapp of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department. The body was a mile from the nearest road, he said.
Neff’s companions, 18-year-old Kole Clauson of Rathdrum and 16-year-old Darren Zychek of Hauser Lake, suffered from hypothermia, the sheriff’s office said. Neither was seriously injured.
“Darren’s toes were blue this morning, but he could feel them,” said his mother, Lucy Zychek.
The three Lakeland High students spent the day at the mountain, a popular place for local youths to hike and snowboard. When the weather turned wet and windy, the three headed back toward Clauson’s pickup about two miles away, Rapp said.
On the way back, the three became disoriented, sheriff’s Lt. Ben Wolfinger said. After a couple of hours, they realized they had passed the truck.
By then, Wolfinger said, Neff was reportedly showing signs of serious hypothermia.
All three were wet and nearly exhausted, with one breaking trail and two following, Rapp said. The three worked their way down a ridge line in steep, rough terrain. Neff was the last one.
“As time went on and the worse the hypothermia got, the last kid in the trail just stopped,” Rapp said. “The others had to keep going. If they hadn’t, we would have had three deaths.”
Clauson and Zychek made it back to the pickup and waited for Neff to arrive. When he didn’t, the two drove to a phone and called for help.
Using snowmobiles and snowshoes, 34 searchers spent most of the night tracking footprints, Rapp said.
They found Neff’s body at 3 a.m. Apparently overcome by hypothermia, Neff had made no attempt to build a shelter, Rapp said.
The overnight low temperature at nearby Coeur d’Alene Airport was 45 degrees. Rapp said hypothermia is possible anytime a person’s core body temperature drops more than a few degrees. Wet clothes also rapidly sap body heat, he said. Victims typically experience exhaustion and sleepiness.
“You can get hypothermia in the middle of the summer,” he said.
Clauson, Zychek and Neff’s mother all said Sunday they were too distraught to speak about the incident.
“It’s a tragic accident,” said Chuck Kinsey, principal at Lakeland High School, where all three youths were on the wrestling and football teams.
Classes won’t be held at Lakeland High School today because of the Presidents’ Day holiday. But Kinsey said counselors will be at the school today from 1 to 4 p.m. to meet with students who want to talk. Kinsey said he also encourages students to seek out members of the clergy.
“A lot of our students will be affected,” the principal said. “Everyone’s devastated.”
MEMO: IDAHO HEADLINE: Athol teenager dies of exposure
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