The search for a missing California hiker has been suspended after a volunteer for the Search and Rescue operation died in the wilderness while looking for the man.
Sreenivas “Sree” Mokkapati, 52, has been missing since Sunday, Dec. 8 when he and three friends went hiking from the Village at Bear Flats to the Mount Baldy Summit, according to ABC News’ Los Angeles station KABC.
Mokkapati became separated from the group during the hike, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, and his friends alerted the authorities that he was missing when they arrived back to their car.
Search crews had been looking for Mokkapati throughout the week but the operation took a tragic turn on Saturday when a Search and Rescue team member radioed authorities saying that Tim Staples, a 32-year-old volunteer of nine years, had become separated from his partner after an apparent fall.
“[A] Los Angeles County sheriff’s helicopter was able to get into the mountain area, even in the weather as bad as it was, and located the Search and Rescue volunteer that had become separated in an ice chute,” said San Bernardino Sheriff John McMahon during a press conference.
“They lowered one of their rescuers via a cable, a hoist cable, down and located our Search and Rescue volunteer Tim Staples, who had sustained, unfortunately and tragically, fatal injuries as a result of the fall,” McMahon continued.
The circumstances around Staples’ death are being investigated.
All Search and Rescue crews were immediately recalled in the aftermath of Staples’ death while the search for Mokkapati was suspended and operations were being “re-evaluated.”
On Thursday, several areas of Mount Baldy were placed under an emergency closure during the search for Mokkapati due to dangerous conditions and would remain in effect through Dec. 31 or until the search for the 52-year-old hiker ended, according to officials with the Angeles National Forest.
Mokkapati's son, Shravan, told KABC that his father is an experienced hiker and that this was not the first time he had traversed Mount Baldy but Mokkapati was only equipped for a day-long hike, not five or more days.
“Our Search and Rescue volunteers, as well as those throughout the entire state, give up themselves and their time, selflessly, to try to rescue folks who become lost,” said McMahon. “Today is an example of what they're willing to give to try to help save some of the citizens that unfortunately get lost or get hurt in some of the most dangerous parts of our state."
Mokkapati was allegedly last seen wearing a gray puffy jacket and gray pants and anyone with information regarding the search is urged to contact the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Fontana station.