Printed on: September 28, 2013

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Searchers looking in caverns for lost hiker

By KATIE TERHUNE and Mike Mooney
Idaho Statesman and

The body of a missing hiker recovered earlier this week at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve was misidentified, authorities said Friday.

Based on dental records, authorities said the body recovered Wednesday evening was that of 69-year-old Amelia Linkert, not that of Boise physician Jodean Elliott-Blakeslee.

"Ongoing investigation Thursday by the Butte County Coroner (Chris Merrill) revealed clues that the body found Wednesday required further identification measures," a news release said. "The coroner requested assistance of the state medical examiner late Thursday. Late this afternoon, the medical examiner made probable positive identification based on dental records that the body recovered Wednesday was Amelia Linkert, not Jodean Elliott-Blakeslee."

As daylight faded Friday evening, the search for Elliott-Blakeslee was halted. It was expected to resume this morning with more than 50 searchers, including eight dog teams and a crew of 21 firefighters, hitting the ground.

Earlier Friday, "helicopters inserted teams consisting of a handler, dog and tracker into key search sites, the news release said. "Ground crews, aided by two cavers, also scoured an area in the Monument around Tree Molds Trail and sections to the south and west."

Linkert, a retired Boise school teacher, and the 63-year-old Elliott-Blakeslee went missing Sept. 19. They were believed to have gone on a day hike along the park's Tree Molds trail. The body now identified as that of Linkert was found in a lava field about a mile from the trail. So far, there has been no sign of Elliott-Blakeslee.

Craters spokeswoman Traci Weaver said a number of caves were searched Friday in the hope that the missing woman may have sought shelter in one of them.

About 45 people combed the park Friday for the missing woman. Two experienced cavers joined the search, along with seven search-and-rescue dogs, Weaver said.

Although rescue teams have looked through some of the caves already, having people with experience join the hunt for Elliott-Blakeslee was helpful.

"It's a lot of ground to cover, so it's great to have those experienced resources," Weaver said. "We're able to go a little more in-depth and search more caves now that we've got people focused solely on that."

But it won't be easy. There are about 300 known caves in the park and Weaver estimated there could be as many as 3,000.

Searchers also were trying to determine the path Linkert took before she died, Weaver said. Retracing the woman's steps could lead searchers to Elliott-Blakeslee, who worked at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Ontario.

It's still possible that Elliott-Blakeslee may be spotted out in the open, park officials said.

Overcast skies and fog grounded the search's three helicopters Thursday. But the weather cleared up Friday and the helicopters once again were patrolling a grid, scanning for any sign of the missing hiker.

It was an Army National Guard helicopter that first sighted the body now identified as Linkert and park officials are confident that if Elliott-Blakeslee was visible from the air, they would find her, too.