UCLA grad student killed in avalanche in California wilderness

The body of a UCLA graduate student who went missing earlier this month was found Saturday, buried in snow after an avalanche came crashing down in the John Muir Wilderness.

Search-and-rescue crews used sonar technology to find Michael David Meyers, 25, under the 60- to 70-foot-long avalanche area, said Inyo County Sheriff William Lutze. Meyers suffered massive injuries, including broken bones, during his fall, he said.

“It’s like being in a head-on accident at 100 mph,” Lutze said.

The last time anyone heard from Meyers was on Nov. 5, when he texted his roommate to say he was going to Mt. Russell in Inyo National Forest.

At the time, the area was slammed by a winter storm. The mountains were blanketed with heavy snows and 100 mph winds blew through the canyons, he said.


Avalanches are not unusual for the area, especially after heavy snow builds up and forms a cornice, sending overhanging snow crashing down. Navigating dense, snow-packed mountains requires skill and experience and should only be attempted in pairs, the sheriff said. Fatalities are not uncommon.

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“If it doesn’t look safe, it’s not safe,” Lutze said.

According to authorities, Meyers was an experienced hiker and climber. He enjoyed cold weather camping and had drawn up a detailed itinerary for his travel, Lutze said. Search-and-rescue crews used the itinerary to track his movements.

About 40 searchers from throughout California started looking for Meyers on Nov. 18 after a local resident spotted a vehicle parked under trees and heavy snow on a service road.

Authorities confirmed the vehicle belonged to Meyers.

Aided by a California Highway Patrol helicopter and a California National Guard Boeing CH-47 Chinook, crews set off the next day to search. On Friday, volunteers found a helmet and a beanie below the avalanche’s path. Authorities believed the items belonged to Meyers.

The next day, crews used sonar equipment along the patch of avalanche to find Meyers’ body.

Meyers’ death was felt by the entire UCLA community, the university said in a statement. Meyers, a Minnesota native, was studying physics.

UCLA will offer counseling resources to students and staff mourning his death.

“We join together in offering our deepest condolences to all of Michael’s family and friends,” the university said in a statement.

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