An off-duty Arcadia firefighter whose body was found in Los Padres National Forest after a nearly two-week search died after apparently falling from a cliff, the Ventura County medical examiner's office said Tuesday.
Mike Herdman's official cause of death was listed as blunt-force injuries caused by an accident. The body of the 36-year-old husband and father was found Friday morning at the foot of a cliff less than a mile from the campsite where he had disappeared from June 13.
Though the listed date of death was when his body was discovered, it appeared Herdman had been dead for at least a few days and his injuries were consistent with a significant fall, Chief Deputy Medical Examiner Armando Chavez said.
Herdman's body was spotted by a helicopter search crew in rugged terrain near Sespe Creek. The body was airlifted to a medical examiner's office, where the identity was confirmed using dental records, officials said.
Herdman, 36, may have tried to climb the cliff in the dark and fell, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said.
"Candidly, I'm not sure if we'll ever get an answer because he's the only one who can answer about why you go so far in the middle of the night like that," Dean said during a televised news conference.
The area had not been closely examined in the massive two-week search effort because authorities thought it was unlikely that Herdman would have climbed up there, officials said.
"When you're searching, you're looking at where people are going to go to survive" — flat areas with water and shade, Ventura County sheriff's spokesman Don Aguilar said.
More than 100 searchers from throughout Southern California scoured more than 50 square miles of rugged backcountry north of Fillmore. Several were treated for heat exhaustion and injuries from rock slides. One was bitten by a rattlesnake and needed 52 vials of antivenin to survive.
Herdman and fellow off-duty Arcadia paramedic Tyler Byars had been midway through a planned four-day backpacking trek in the forest when Herdman's dog, Duke, ran off in the night, Byars told authorities. Herdman, an experienced outdoorsman, gave chase, he said.
Officials said Byars tried to find Herdman through the night and the next day. He then tried to find his own way out and got lost. A pair of fishermen found Byars "dehydrated, disheveled and disoriented" and guided him back to the beginning of the trail at Tar Creek, where the ill-fated trip had begun.
Duke was spotted several times throughout the search but wasn't caught until Sunday, when a hiker found him at a trail head. Authorities described the German shorthair mix as dehydrated and exhausted.
On Monday, the Fire Family Foundation announced it had set up a fund to help Herdman's wife and daughter.