Rescuers fail to find missing firefighter in Los Padres Forest

A small team of rescuers continued to scour the wilderness of the Los Padres National Forest late Thursday for a missing firefighter and his dog, but major search operations were suspended until Friday morning.

Authorities said Mike Herdman disappeared June 13 after he chased after his dog Duke in a remote area of the forest, where search efforts have been hampered by steep canyons, boulder-strewn terrain and forested mountains.


Earlier Thursday, members of a search and rescue team retrieved Duke and were waiting for a helicopter to hoist the pet from the scene, the Ventura County Sheriff's Department said.

But as the helicopter descended into the area, Duke broke free and ran away. He was apparently frightened by the copter, Sgt. Eric Buschow said.

"We had him and we lost him," Buschow said.

Team members played harmonicas to attract Duke as they worked their way across the Sespe Wilderness area northwest of Sulphur Peak. Herdman’s daughter used to play the harmonica to get the dog’s attention, Buschow said.

Herdman had set up camp in the area with a friend when Duke took off. Authorities said it took the friend two days to hike out of the area. The Sheriff's Department was alerted on Sunday.

Several dozen rescuers took part in the search mission on Thursday. Ten members stayed in the area Thursday night to continue searching in the darkness, authorities said.

Full search operations will resume at daybreak on Friday.

"The hope is that Mike in that general vicinity," Buschow said.

Follow @LAJourno for breaking news