Search-and-rescue teams from five counties scoured Mt. Baldy on Thursday searching for a hiker missing since Sunday.
Sreenivas “Sree” Mokkapati, a 52-year-old Irvine resident, went missing after getting separated from his group, and search crews have set out on foot and by helicopter each day to try to find him.
Multiple times, crews looking for Mokkapati were diverted to rescue other hikers in the area, prompting Angeles National Forest supervisor Jerome Perez to issue a temporary emergency closure for the trails in the Mt. Baldy area effective until Dec. 31, or until Mokkapti is found.
The closure affects only U.S. Forest Service lands, not county roads or private land.
When the closure was announced, the phone started ringing at Mt. Baldy Lodge, which has long served as an unofficial information center for the area, said Charlie Ellingson, the lodge general manager.
“We have a lot of pride in the fact we are open every day,” Ellingson said. Callers “were assuming because the news was saying all of Mt. Baldy was shut down that we were going to be closed, and the ski area was going to closed.”
The Mt. Baldy Ski Area has a permit to operate on Angeles National Forest land, meaning it can remain open under the emergency closure order.
Ellingson said there’s no longer snow on the ground at the lodge, which sits at 4,200 feet elevation, and the roads are clear and dry, meaning visitors have an easy drive up to the Mt. Baldy Resort’s restaurant or to the ski area.
Activities affected under the emergency closure include dispersed recreation, recreation at forest service recreation sites, hiking, cross country skiing or other recreation trails within the closure area.
Authorities hope the closure will mean no further distractions for search crews.
After family and friends of Mokkapati made pleas Wednesday evening for more certified search-and-rescue crews to volunteer, the number of volunteers responding to help doubled, KCAL-TV Channel 9 reported.
Justin Williams, one of Mokkapati’s Sunday hiking companions, told KNBC-TV Channel 4 that he suggested to Mokkapati that they turn back about four miles into the hike when conditions became too challenging and dangerous.
The last time he saw Mokkapati, the hiker was about 20 feet ahead of Williams and kept walking.
“I keep reliving that moment in my mind,” Williams said.