The bones of a 24-year-old Pennsylvania man who drowned while kayaking the Hoback River 26 years ago have been found in Palisades Reservoir and confirmed to be those of the missing man.

Kyle Martin, the deceased, was kayaking with a friend on May 30, 1995, a day the duo planned to float from Granite Creek to the Snake-Hoback river confluence. When Martin’s buddy lost his paddle near the Spotted Horse Ranch, Martin proceeded on alone to fetch their vehicle but was never seen alive again.

Dave Hodges was a sheriff’s deputy on the Teton County Search and Rescue team at the time, and was on scene along with Martin’s family two days later after they located his blue kayak bobbing in a large snag low in the Hoback.

Drowned kayaker

Teton County Search and Rescue’s Keith Benefiel checks a snag on the Hoback River for any sign of Kyle Martin in June 1995. The Teton County Sheriff’s Office has requsted Martin’s remains from a laboratory in Texas so that they can be returned to his family back East. They plan to cremate him and spread his ashes at the base of a memorial tree.

In a “heroic” effort, Hodges recalled, a helicopter yanked on the downed tree, moving it just enough to dislodge the boat. In that same moment, Martin’s body came out of the kayak’s cockpit.

“He separates and he’s on the surface, but I didn’t expect him to then submerge almost as quickly as he emerged,” Hodges said. “It seemed like we were no more than a boat length when he begins to submerge, and of course he was never seen again.”

Search and rescue crews looked for weeks to no avail. Martin’s family had some sense of closure in that they saw him momentarily and knew he was deceased, but with his body never recovered, he officially remained a missing person.

The case remained cold until Hodges, now the longest-serving deputy at the Teton County Sheriff’s Office, was paging through an edition of Forensics Magazine last winter. He noticed an entry from the Bonneville County, Idaho Sheriff’s Office regarding some human remains found in Palisades Reservoir.

“When I first read that they were looking for some assistance in finding the identity of this person, that day [June 1, 1995] exploded in my mind,” Hodges said. “I thought, ‘That could be Kyle.’ ”

Drowned kayaker

Deb Frauson and Loki work the Hoback River looking for lost kayaker Kyle Martin in June 1995. Bones found in Palisades Reservoir were confirmed to be those of the 24-year-old employee of The Wort Hotel.

Hodges contacted Karl Noah, a Bonneville County detective, and they began running down the possibility that they were in possession of Martin’s bones. DNA they extracted did not match anybody in the federal missing persons database, so they coordinated with a police department near where Martin’s mom was living at an assisted living facility. They swabbed her for a DNA sample, sent it to an FBI laboratory, and a few months later they heard back.

“I’ve seen the DNA results,” Hodges said, “and they were an exact match.”

Hodges reached Kyle Martin’s brother, of New York City, over the phone last Friday, alerting them that the 26-year-old mystery was over.

“It was an incredible moment to call family after 26 years and say that your son and your brother is finally coming home,” Hodges said. “We both had a moment of tears. It was a sense of closure for a family that’s been waiting so long to have their son and their brother home.”

The recovery and confirmation of Kyle Martin’s remains was a joint effort by the FBI’s DNA laboratory, Teton County Sheriff’s Office, the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office and the Othram Laboratory in Woodlands, Texas.

Teton County Sheriff’s Office has requested Martin’s remains from the Othram Lab. They then will be conveyed to his family.

Note: This story has been updated to specify that Martin's remains aren't yet in Teton County's possession. 

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or env@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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