SUTTONS BAY —
At least they know what happened.
That was the sentiment of Noah Pippin's loved ones today, three days after searchers found the Suttons Bay graduate's remains in a remote stretch of Montana wilderness where he disappeared while hiking in 2010.
Authorities said they suspect Pippin was caught in a snowstorm and died from hypothermia.
"It's a miracle we found him," said Noah's father, Michael Pippin, in a phone interview today. "This has been a two-year ordeal, and it's a miracle we've found him."
Pippin vanished hiking in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, prompting a lengthy search by his parents and nationwide speculation about what happened. Some thought Noah Pippin committed suicide. Others guessed the California National Guard soldier went AWOL from the military to avoid deployment after two prior tours in Iraq.
But in the end, it appears Noah Pippin was hiking when a storm swept in and dropped temperatures, along with six inches of snow, on his camp at an elevation of 7,500 feet. A search team hiked for two days, some 18 miles into the wilderness, to find his body late Friday.
"He was found in a crevice of a boulder the size of a large house," Mike Pippin said. "It appears he climbed into this crevice to get some warmth. The police were at first concerned it was a suicide, but when they found the amount of gear he had laid out at the camp, and the way it was arranged, it appeared he was obviously trying to seek shelter. Basically death due to exposure is what it looks like to us."
Mike Pippin said his son's remains will be returned to northern Michigan for a funeral service. A date has not been announced.
Lewis and Clark Sheriff Leo Dutton said a cause of death determination is pending. Dutton said he flew into the site where Noah Pippin's body was found, and after examining the campsite, he believes it's likely the death is weather-related.
"There are questions that remain," Dutton said. "A cause of death and why? I may never be able to answer those questions, but at least the family will have a chance to heal with the absolute knowing of where he's at. It is done now, and the grieving process can start."
SUTTONS BAY —
At least they know what happened.
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