Search continues for missing Utah boy on South Fork

A search for a missing 9-year-old Utah boy with family ties to north Big Horn County continued this week after the boy was swept away and is presumed to have drowned in the Upper South Fork of the Shoshone River southwest of Cody on Monday, July 2.

Tyler Hatch, son of Byron native Kevin Hatch and his wife Terri of Eagle Mountain, Utah, and grandson of Don and Janene Hatch of Byron, was riding with his family in the Upper South Fork in the area of Fall Creek on a family horse pack trip when he was thrown from the horse and carried away by the swift current.

Efforts were made by family members to rescue Tyler, but he was quickly carried into a narrow, steep-walled canyon.

The tragic incident happened around 11:55 a.m. July 2, according to Park County Sheriff Scott Steward, and was reported to the sheriff’s office at around 1:30 when Don Hatch could get out far enough to obtain cell service.

Tyler’s uncle, Joe Hatch, said the Hatch family has been taking the same family pack trip for many years, camping at a site about 15 miles beyond the end of the South Fork road.

“We used to go on it every summer as a family,” Joe said. “This was the first time Kevin had taken his family in there, but they own horses and love to ride as a family. The kids have ridden a bunch.”

Monday, July 2, was the day the family was making the journey by horse to the campsite, brothers Kevin, Jake and Joe having gone in on Saturday to set up camp. Although he was not with the family that day, Joe said he understands they were about six miles in when the accident happened.

Tyler’s horse was following in a line of horses when it jumped into the water and Tyler was thrown off. Kevin, Jake and Don Hatch rode after him but couldn’t catch up, Joe said, and Kevin jumped in, trying to get the river to carry him to Tyler but couldn’t catch him and had to save himself.

“He barely got out, just before the canyon,” Joe said. “There are cliffs on both sides for about a mile and a half, and it’s pretty rapid in there.”

Don Hatch then hurried to notify authorities, riding quickly to get cell service.

“The trail goes along the edge of the canyon,” Joe said. “It’s a small trail, a horse trail. The ride usually takes two hours, but he made it in about 45 minutes. He was going pretty quick on that little trail.”

He noted that his mother, Janene, also went into the water a while after Tyler did when her horse reared over backwards. Son Jake raced in front of her, jumped off his horse and caught her just before she would have entered the same canyon where Tyler was swept.

Joe called Jacob’s grab “a miracle” in the swift water.

The search

Authorities responded quickly, and by 2:15 p.m. a helicopter provided by the Collier family of Valley Ranch was in the air with a Park County deputy on board to search the area where Tyler was last seen, Steward said. The helicopter was able to make just one pass through the canyon before being forced out by strong, gusty winds.

The helicopter and Park County Search and Rescue members continued to search, and at around 4 p.m. under more favorable flight conditions, the helicopter team was able to re-enter the tight canyon and after several passes spotted Tyler’s body about a half mile below where he was last seen by family members, Steward said.

The chopper crew was unable to land due to the steep, 400-foot cliffs and dangerous water conditions, and two kayakers, a member of the Park County Search and Rescue and another volunteer, went into the canyon and by 8 p.m. reached the area where Tyler had been spotted, only to discover that the body was no longer there, having been washed downstream, Steward said.

Searching continued Tuesday with kayakers and on foot, on Wednesday with ground searchers, dog teams and a helicopter and on Thursday with kayakers again.

Friday was a mobilization day leading to a massive effort on Saturday, Steward said, involving some 65 searchers including Park, Sheridan and Teton County Search and Rescue, employees of area ranchers, other volunteers and Hatch family members.

Saturday’s search included several search teams deployed on foot and horseback, Steward said, to search both side of the South Fork. Boat teams floated the river downstream to search areas not accessible by foot or horseback. Several search dog teams were deployed, as well. Five kayaks were packed by horses and mules approximately six miles upstream above where Tyler was last seen and once again navigated the steep canyon to search. A Park County Sheriff’s airplane and another private plane assisted the search as weather permitted.

“The kayakers sure did a good job,” Joe Hatch said. “They’re a pretty impressive group.”

The search resumed on Sunday with about 35 searchers concentrating on areas from the Majo Ranch as far downstream as 15 miles.

The family

Kevin Hatch is a 1996 graduate of Rocky Mountain High School, where he was an excellent basketball player, going on to play in college. He and Terri have five children: Haley, 11, Tyler, 9, Ashlin, 7, Ali, 5, and Maiah, 3.

Kevin is finance director for Marlin Equity, a private equity firm.

Joe Hatch said Tyler was “a great kid,” adding, “He enjoyed life” and was having a great day with his family the day of the accident.

Services for Tyler are scheduled for Saturday in Eagle Mountain.

By David Peck