HELENA – A search party of border agents, law enforcement officers and volunteers hiked into the Montana wilderness Wednesday on a seven-day mission to learn the fate of an Iraq war veteran who disappeared there two years ago.
Noah Pippin was last seen on Sept. 15, 2010, near the Chinese Wall, a sheer 1,000-foot ridge along the Continental Divide that is the centerpiece of the 1 million-acre Bob Marshall Wilderness south of Glacier National Park.
The month before, Pippin quit his job with the Los Angeles Police Department, which he joined after his third tour in Iraq with the Marines. He spent time with his family in Michigan before telling them he was heading back to California to re-enlist in the military.
Instead, he drove to Montana in a rental car and disappeared in one of the nation’s largest stretches of wilderness. He was carrying a backpack, a GPS, a plastic jug and a .38-caliber pistol. A family who came across him on the trail near the Chinese Wall told authorities that they believed Pippin was ill-equipped for an extended wilderness trek.
Last summer, a troop of Boy Scouts found clothing that authorities thought could belong to Pippin. A search party was organized, but they found no sign of Pippin and ended up rescuing a diabetic hiker whose insulin pump broke and who could not hike out on his own.
Now, Pippin’s family has arrived in Montana from Traverse City, Mich., determined to find out what happened to their son. They told the Great Falls Tribune and the Flathead Beacon that they are hopeful Noah is alive and just may not want to be found.
One way or another, they want the mystery solved, even if the truth is grim.
“Until I find real evidence that he’s dead, I will keep looking,” Pippin’s brother, Caleb Pippin, told the Beacon.
Nobody returned a message left at the Pippins’ home on Wednesday.
Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton has organized a search party to try again.
“It’s to finish what we were doing,” Dutton said Wednesday. “We didn’t get to finish our search last year. The family was coming out, and we tried to take advantage of everyone going in at the same time for safety.”
The party entered the Bob Marshall Wilderness on foot west of Augusta at a trailhead only recently reopened after wildfires threatened the area. Blazes were still burning to the west and southwest, but the searchers planned to skirt around them as they headed northwest toward the Chinese Wall.
The party is led by a sheriff’s deputy and includes seven U.S. Border Patrol agents, five search and rescue officials and three volunteers, Dutton said. They were expected to meet up later with Vern Kersey, a member of the family that encountered Pippin on the trail in 2010.
They plan to search the wilderness until Tuesday. Dutton had originally planned to lead the group, but he was called to respond to a new wildfire burning north of Helena.
Pippin’s parents, meanwhile, plan to take their own search to the towns, roadside restaurants and hotels near the Bob Marshall, quizzing the people they find on whether they saw a big man with a shaved head and a polite demeanor.
“He would have stood out,” Mike Pippin, Noah’s father, told the Tribune. “He would have been coming out of the woods. He would have been hungry.”
RELATED: Still Searching for Noah
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