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Missing Idaho boy found safe in Uinta mountains

(Stratton Wright and his father after being flown down the mountain. Credit: Summit County Sheriff's Office.)

SUMMIT COUNTY — A huge search effort in Summit County paid off Thursday as a missing nine-year-old Idaho boy, lost in the Henrys Fork area, was found and reunited with his family. 

Officials say, in the end, a father’s intuition was the most effective search tool.

Missing Idaho boy separated from family

Investigators with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office say Stratton Wright went camping with his grandfather and brothers when he became separated from the group near Henrys Fork in the Uintah-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.  By the time the family called police, Wright had been missing for more than an hour. 

Lieutenant Andrew Wright says searchers worried about Stratton’s safety, in part because of his age. They didn’t know how prepared he was to be on his own.

(Stratton Wright, courtesy Summit County Sheriff’s Office)

“It does get cold in those high elevations, even in the summer time.  Temperatures are known to drop down into the 30s, sometimes even into the 20s depending on the weather system that comes through,” Wright said.

Wright says they got an overwhelming amount of support from other law enforcement agencies offering their resources to help find Stratton.  Crews were able to search through the night for any sign of Stratton’s movements.

“We had a lot of different resources in there… horseback, people on foot and dog teams that were headed in,” Wright says.  “We also requested the assistance of the Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter, which has a FLIR camera system on board which allows us to see in the nighttime.  We had the Utah National Guard with a Blackhawk helicopter up there.”

Where did Stratton go?

Investigators say Stratton ended up walking around Bear Lake, which is roughly five miles away from the Henrys Fork Trailhead.  Once there, he realized he needed to conserve his energy.  Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez says Stratton took shelter near a group of trees and decided to go to sleep so he could have energy in the morning.

After that, Martinez says Stratton knew people would be searching for him, so he found an open, grassy field and waited there so search crews could see him.  He was eventually found just before 11 a.m. Thursday.

Dad to the rescue

Even with all of the searchers on foot, on horseback, and on motorcycles, and even with all of the expensive equipment used to locate Stratton … it was his own father who found him.

Martinez says Stratton’s father wasn’t able to go on the camping trip with the rest of the family.  However, once he heard his son was missing, he raced down to join the search.  Within a few hours of arriving, he spotted his son in the field.  Martinez says Stratton didn’t know who he was looking at, at first.

“When he realized it was his father, he ran toward his father.  Obviously, there were tears shed and it was a very emotional moment for both father and son,” he said.

Martinez says the search crews who went up to look for Stratton are very well-trained, but they didn’t have the bond with Stratton that his father does.

“I think it was just his parent’s intuition, thinking, ‘Where would my son go?  What direction do I believe my son would travel?’  He used that instinct to come across him,” he added.

Safe, sound and hungry

Martinez said Stratton became a little dehydrated during his ordeal, but otherwise showed no signs of ill health. They offered him water, but Stratton reportedly just wanted a Twix bar.  He also reportedly said he wanted to stay on the camping trip with his family, but Martinez said his mother would be upset if they didn’t bring him home.

Martinez says they’re expecting many people to come into the mountains over the Fourth of July weekend, so parents need to talk with their children about what they need to do if they get lost.  He says parents can point to Stratton’s story as a good example.