By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor
BIG SKY – Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office Captain Jim Anderson and his family were involved in a boating accident on the Yellowstone River on July 27.
Known in Big Sky as a world-class ski instructor, Anderson is an Alpine committee member of the Northern Rocky Mountain Division of the Professional Ski Instructors of America and has taught skiing lessons at Big Sky Resort for a number of years.
The family’s drift boat capsized near a bridge on Highway 89 northeast of Livingston. Anderson and his daughter were able to make it to shore safely, but his wife, Angie, and 15-year-old son, James, did not.
According to officials, Angie passed away at the scene, while search efforts are still ongoing to recover James’ body.
The bridge on Highway 89 crosses the Yellowstone just north of the highway’s junction with I-90. It runs alongside a railroad bridge, and the river crosses beneath both bridges after an S-curve.
“That bridge is particularly treacherous,” said Park County Sergeant Brad Bichler. “We get boats turned over in the river all the time.”
“A lot of river dynamics are going on just in the fact that the river is turning and you have those pilings as well,” he said, adding that the bridge pilings create fast-moving water.
In the days following the accident, officials closed a stretch of the Yellowstone from Mayor’s Landing to Sheep Mountain Fishing Access in order to thoroughly search the area. Boat teams, ground crews, search dogs, divers, a helicopter team and drone have all been used in the effort to recover James’ body, coming from more than nine different counties.
In a statement posted on the Park County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, Bichler wrote, “Everyone involved feels frustrated that we haven’t been able to find James. River searches are complex and always take large amounts of manpower and resources. They can last for weeks but every time we hope [it] will be different and we will find the person sooner. Our hearts go out to James’ family and we are working hard to provide them and the community with closure as soon as possible.”
As the search shifted from a rescue mission to an effort to recover the body, officials reopened the stretch of river on July 29. At EBS press time on Aug. 1, they continued to search the area.
“We’ll continue to search as long as necessary,” Bichler said. “Any time we have anyone lost in the river, particularly a child, we’ll continue to search.”
In a statement released by Gallatin County, Sheriff Brian Gootkin said, “Family is everything, it’s why we do what we do and it’s also why it hurts that much more when it’s our family. We hurt for Jim and his family. They have a long, difficult road ahead but they are not alone. We will help and support them no matter what they need or how long it takes.”