Rosalie Pippin swears it was a miracle.
Early last week, Lewis and Clark County search and rescue ventured into the Bob Marshall Wilderness to look for clues in the disappearance of her son, Noah, who vanished along the Chinese Wall over a year ago. County volunteers came back empty-handed in the Pippin case, but they managed to save the life of a man from Pippin's home state, Michigan.
Sheriff Leo Dutton says that in the late afternoon of Sept. 19, Dennis Latshaw and his 22-year-old son Kevin wandered into the search crew's camp with a medical emergency. Kevin was nearing diabetic shock.
"The father told me his son was having trouble with his insulin delivery unit and didn't have any way to deliver it," Dutton says.
Search and rescue quickly gave Kevin a dose of insulin. They kept a close eye on him that night and flew him out on Sept. 20. Kevin was rushed to the emergency room in Helena.
Dutton had already been marveling at the unprecedented nature of the search effort. His department was acting on a tip from a group of Missoula Boy Scouts who discovered shreds of cloth along the Chinese Wall in August. The Montana National Guard agreed to fly 27 people into the area by Chinook helicopter and the U.S. Forest Service agreed to let the chopper land.
The weather turned nasty fast. As volunteers scoured the wilderness for signs of Pippin—they found a scrap of cloth and a few bones, but nothing conclusive—it began to rain. Then snow. Soon the thunder and lightning started.
"It's something I've never experienced," Dutton says. "You're so high in the mountains that the thunder rolls through you."
The snow was so heavy it collapsed the crew's tents. With Latshaw's need for medical attention, Dutton called off the search early Sept. 20.
Rosalie Pippin and her husband Mike received the results of the search with "a bit of disappointment mixed with relief," Mike says. They'd gone to church the day before the search crew left. Mike says Dutton had talked to them about their prayers and "specifically asked for a miracle."
From the Pippins' standpoint, and Dutton's, they got what he asked for.
"Whether you're a believin' man or not, I think the good lord put us there for Mr. Latshaw," Dutton says.
Dutton adds that he hopes to launch another search for Pippin before fall sets in.