TODAY   |  August 17, 2013

‘Pure fear’: Riders recount seeing Hannah Anderson in wilderness

Four horseback riders on an outing thought something was out of place when they came across a man and a young girl some 20 miles from the nearest paved road. “We thought that was pretty strange, especially the way they were dressed,” said one of the riders. NBC’s Kevin Tibbles reports.

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>> hannah anderson and james dimaggio were discovered by horseback riders who saw they looked out of place. they called authorities. kevin tibbles traveled to the same back country with them. good morning.

>> reporter: if it weren't for that group of riders, hannah anderson would not have been found. just don't call them heroes. it is easy to see why one rarely encounters other people in the mountains and high pines of the idaho back country. it's as treasure rouse as it is majestic. all the reason four seasoned riders on an outing thought something was out of place when they came across a man and young girl some 20 miles from a paved road .

>> we thought it was strange, especially the way they were dressed.

>> reporter: the man, james dimaggio had a cat with him. he cradled the cat and stroking it. kind of odd.

>> reporter: after the group returned home and saw the amber alert for hannah anderson , they became alarmed and called police. they all agreed the girl they saw was frightened.

>> the look on her face was pure fear. i didn't like what i seen on his face.

>> the horseback riders that saw dimaggio and hannah , that was tip number 200. it turned out to be the one.

>> reporter: for two days, the riders took nbc news along as they retraced their tracks, a trip that included some nine riders and numerous pack horses. we ended up where they say hannah dipping her feet into lake moorhead.

>> they thought they were alone.

>> this area is so remote. it's called the river of no return wilderness area . the four riders say they rarely see anybody up here.

>> nothing but rock and ridge for mile after mile has left them in awe that is young hostage in tennis shoes and sweats made it this far.

>> they call us heroes, but she's the hero.

>> if this chance encounter hadn't taken place, they shutter to think what might have happened.

>> i don't know if we saved her life. i know we set the stage for somebody else to save her life.

>> reporter: they know that territory like the back of their hands and doubt anyone could have lasted out there very long without the proper gear. erica, on another note, the cat we spoke about, the cat was rescued at the same time as hannah .

>> thank you. a fascinating look at that. you know i have been wondering about the cat. i appreciate that update as well.