A member of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department search and rescue team was found dead in the ice and snow Saturday during a search of Mt. Baldy for a missing hiker.
At some point during the search operation the team member became separated from his partner, the Sheriff’s Department said in a statement. The individual was not identified.
“An air search located the team member unresponsive on ice and snow,” the department said. “A medic was lowered to the SAR member and discovered him deceased.”
Investigators are still trying to determine what happened, officials said. All crew members were recalled and search operations for the missing hiker were suspended.
Search crews have been combing Mt. Baldy for any sign of Sreenivas “Sree” Mokkapati, who has been missing for nearly one week. Search and rescue teams from five counties have participated in the search.
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 Mokkapati is found.
The closure affects only U.S. Forest Service lands, not county roads or private land.
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.
Activities affected under the emergency closure include dispersed recreation, recreation at forest service recreation sites, hiking, cross-country skiing or other recreation within the closure area.
After family and friends of Mokkapati made pleas Wednesday evening for more certified search crews to volunteer, the number of volunteers 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 Williams saw his hiking partner, Mokkapati was about 20 feet ahead of him and kept walking.
“I keep reliving that moment in my mind,” Williams said.