An aerial crew has spotted what could be the remains of a 60-year-old hiker who has been the subject of an intense five-deay search on Mt. Whitney.
The rescue mission for John Likely came to a standstill Thursday evening after the aerial crew spotted what's believed to be the hiking enthusiast's remains lodged in a steep chute, the Inyo County Sheriff's Office said.
Crews waited until Friday morning to begin removing the remains because they needed ample sunlight. It's still unknown how far the remains were found from the 10.7-mile trail Likely was last seen on, Inyo County sheriff's spokeswoman Carma Roper said.
The Inyo County coroner has yet to positively identify the remains.
"From the beginning, we've treated this mission as a rescue, not a recovery. As a team we are deeply saddened, and our thoughts go out to Likely's family and friends during this difficult time," said Inyo County Search and Rescue Coordinator Nate Derr in a news release.
Volunteers from multiple agencies, backed by aerial support, spent hours each day canvassing Mt. Whitney at elevations reaching close to 15,000 feet. They also pressed through high winds and visibility issues caused by the Shirley fire burning southwest of Lake Isabella.
Some crew members camped overnight and interviewed hikers who trickled throughout the area for any clues.
"It was a big effort," Roper said. "As you can imagine, when a search takes a turn into recovery, it leaves them feeling very somber."
Likely, of Dumont, N.J., has hiked for 30 years with two friends. The trio took the Mt. Whitney Trail on Saturday. On the way down, Likely slowed his pace as his friends continued, which wasn't uncommon. Likely's friends last spotted him on the cable rails of the 99-switchback section before heading to the Outpost Camp that night. Likely's friends searched for him into Sunday morning before alerting authorities.
This year, the Inyo County Sheriff's Office has assisted with nearly 12 successful searches. There was one death in January.