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June 2002

Trapped! The Mike Turner Story

Deep in Wyoming's Wind River Range, an accident with a sliding boulder makes a hiker confront his life, his fate, and his faith in God.

Photo by Mike Turner

In the flurry of days that followed Diane’s initial call for help, a “hasty team” traced Turner’s itinerary. Retailer REI faxed in the track pattern for the size 13 Asolo hiking boot Turner wore, so searchers could look for prints. Posters went up at trailheads, in every storefront from Pinedale to Lander. The Turner children collected names from trailhead registers and matched them with phone numbers off the Internet. Carloads of volunteers from Turner’s congregation converged on the Wind Rivers to help. “We’ve never had a search like this one in terms of the family and friends being so involved and so helpful,” Holgate says. “It was obvious from the start that this guy was loved and respected.”

But even with all of those eyes out there looking, clue after clue led nowhere. And time was running out. More than 70 percent of lost victims found alive are discovered within the first 48 hours. Of those who don’t survive, 75 percent die within the first 3 days. “I pulled Danny aside at one point,” Mark Smith remembers, “and asked straight out how long someone could last out there.” Holgate answered that with a traumatic injury, “you’d probably make it through the first night. You might make it through the second. The third night would probably get you.” It was now nearly 3 weeks since anyone had seen Mike Turner.

On August 23, the search for Mike Turner was called off. “The case isn’t closed,” Holgate told the family. “We’ll throw everything we have at any new lead. But for now, we’ve done all that we can.” As the days grew colder and the first snow dusted the high peaks, it seemed that Mike Turner’s fate would become a secret of the mountains. “We needed to catch a break,” Holgate says.

And then they got one.

Five days after the search was called off, Turner’s dog Andy walked out of the wilderness led by a pair of hikers who had seen the posters at the trailhead. Wet, footsore, and 20 pounds lighter, the dog was exhausted but not hurt. He was taken to a veterinary clinic and rested while searchers and the family regrouped. “Andy being found alive opened up a whole new realm of emotions for me,” Diane says. “I was hopeful but still trying to be realistic.”

On August 31, more than a month after Mike Turner had set out and 23 days after his family had expected him at Big Sandy, a search team set out on one more trip into the Wind Rivers, hoping Andy would lead them to some answers. That same day, Jeff Stewart, a hiker from San Diego, was making his way along the edge of the unnamed lake near the Brown Cliffs on a 9-day cross-country hike with a route eerily similar to Mike Turner’s. Intent on his footing in the loose rocks, Stewart glanced up and, 50 yards away, saw what appeared to be a man sitting up in the rocks. “I had seen the posters at the trailhead and knew they were looking for someone,” he says. “So I called out, ‘Hey, are you all right?’ There was no answer. I knew there wouldn’t be.” Stewart already knew who it was.

On September 3, just as the search team prepared to drop off Indian Pass onto Knife Point Glacier with Andy in the lead, their radio crackled to life. It was Danny Holgate: Turn around, he said. A hiker had walked into the Sublette County Sheriff’s office carrying a wallet. It belonged to Mike Turner.

The coroner performed an autopsy and filed a report showing that Mike Turner had died sometime on August 11, the same day the first helicopter carrying Danny Holgate lifted off to begin the search.

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