SDMRT 2017-8 Mutual Aid Mount Baldy Operations Report

2017-08 Mt. Baldy Mutual Aid

10 April 2017 through 11 Apr 2017 (2 Days) for SDMRT, 3 days overall

Submitted by Richard Yocum

SDMRT Responders:

  • 10 April 2017: Bill McNaul, Patrick Carey, and Marshall Masser
  • 11 April 2017: (no SDMRT responders)

SDMRT ITC: Richard Yocum

Other responding organizations: In addition to San Diego, 4 other counties (including San Bernardo, Los Angeles, and Riverside), approximately 40 personnel on 10 April 2017 and 20 on 11 April 2017

Short Summary:

  • Type of callout: Limited to Type 1 searchers only on 10 April, and expanded to Types 1 and 2 as of 11 April
    • Out-of-county Cal OES mutual aid, assisting San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Fontana Station
  • Type of search: Search for missing hiker
  • Location: CP at Mt. Baldy Fire Station, 6730 Mount Baldy Road, Mt. Baldy, CA 91759; search on Mt. Baldy hiking trails and vicinity
  • Earliest time of activity: Operational Period 3, 10 April 2017, briefing at 0730
  • Ending time (10-22 or time when SDMRT members were finished): Approximately 1800 on 10 April. 10-22 at approximately 14:50 on 1 April.
  • Operational periods: Initial callout was for Operational Period 3, for 10 April 2017
  • Information about the subject:
    • Number/names of subjects: 1 missing subject, Seuk “Sam” Kim, 78-yr-old Korean-American man
    • Age: 78 years old
    • Level of fitness and preparedness: Good to excellent, has completed > 750 summits of Mt Baldy, and hikes there almost daily
    • Mental status (cognitive development, dementia, depressed, suicidal): No known issues
    • Injuries, if applicable: Not known
    • How were they found (family friend, Sheriff, self-signaling, bystander): Subject was located deceased during helicopter aerial search.
  • Any rescuers injured: No SDMRT members injured, but on 10 April 2017, a CP SAR personnel was airlift to nearby hospital with suspected myocardial infarction
  • Aircraft used: San Bernardino County Sheriff helicopters

Descriptive Report

This missing subject was Seuk Kim, often known as “Sam,” a 78-year-old very well known hiker on Mt. Baldy. He had been featured earlier this year by various media including the LA Times newspaper for his more than 750 ascents to Mt. Baldy summit and his goal of attaining 1,000 summits by the end of 2017. Kim has a reputation for being irrepressible on the trail, handing out jelly beans and Doritos, demanding other hikers pose for selfies and chatting with everyone he meets. He hikes Mt. Baldy nearly every day and is known to many hikers. He was, in fact, encountered in the Baldy Bowl last month during SDMRT’s Hard Snow field training.

According to news media, Kim was reported by his family to be overdue on Sunday, 9 April 2017. Richard Tufts, a friend who lives in a cabin at the foot of Baldy, said he received a call Sunday morning from a member of Kim’s family, which was worried that he was uncharacteristically late to return from the hike that he once made 100 days in a row. Kim’s car was found Sunday near the Baldy trailhead. Tufts, 73, said he immediately started up the mountain to look for his friend along the Ski Hut Trail, but was unsuccessful. He said he was worried about the possibility that Kim succumbed to hypothermia because it rained on the mountain Friday evening. San Bernardino County Sheriffs used a helicopter on 9 April to conduct an aerial search while 25 volunteers swept the area along Ski Hut Trail through the evening.

10 April 2017: Following a Cal OES mutual aid request the previous evening, SDMRT responded by sending Bill McNaul (acting OL), Patrick Carey, and Marshall Masser, who joined approximately 40 other SAR personnel from San Bernardino, LA, and Riverside counties. Shortly after SDMRT members Bill, Patrick and Marshall arrived at the CP, 7 teams were formed based on various skill types. Based on their Type 1 status, SDMRT members Bill and Patrick were assigned to a “rope” Team 5. This team was made up of 2 SDMRT and 2 cave rescue members from Valley SAR and was assigned to search the upper bowl area shown on the map. Marshall was assigned to Team 6 along with 3 Sheriffs. Their assigned area was the lower bowl region extending below the summit trail down canyon to the falls. Team 7 was assigned to search the hut trail. All 3 teams ascended from Manker Flats to the hut together with Teams 5 and 6 moving faster up the trail. Once at the hut it was determined that none of the members on Team 6 were familiar with the terrain down to the falls. One member of Team 5 who did know the route traded places with Marshall, making team 5 Bill, Patrick, Marshall, and Eric (Valley Sheriff’s SAR).

Team 5 formed an open line search configuration aligned along the summit trail (Type 1 terrain) at the west edge of the bowl about 50-100 meters apart. The track shown on the map represents the upper member of the team. The lowest team member walked along the level portion at the base of the bowl. All trees, rock outcroppings, and gullies were searched with nothing remarkable found. Near the completion of Team 5 assignment, Team 7(?) reported finding signs of someone (thing) going over the steep edge down from the hut trail. They were unable to investigate due to insufficient gear and so Team 5 was assigned to check it out on their way down the trail. This sounded like a likely spot because the subject has been known to take “shortcuts” and this point in the trail was just above the hairpin road overlook of the falls near the parking lot. When Team 5 reached the “shortcut,” ropes were set up but Patrick was able to free descend the slope and do a thorough survey of the area. Nothing remarkable was found.

Meanwhile, aerial searches were in progress along with other ground teams as well as a team of 11 rescuers who were taken to the summit by helicopter. This day concluded with no known definite clues found.

At the CP Teams 1-3 had been assigned to be airlifted to peak search areas. By the time Team 5 reached the hut they had not heard any air activity. It turns out that one of the searchers still in CP had had a suspected myocardial infarction, which occurred just as the helo was landing at the LZ near the CP to pick up the first team. That helo was diverted to transport the ill searcher to the hospital where he was reported to have underwent lifesaving surgery.

11 April 2017: No SDMRT responders this day. According news media, 18 SAR team members searched including 10 who were to be flown the summit to hike the trails down the mountain, while the rest were to hike the upbound trails. The subject’s body was reportedly located on the north side of the mountain at 1410 by a San Bernardino County Sheriff helo.

Lessons learned/ suggestions for future operations

If you are going to have a heart attack, have it in a fire station surrounded by SAR personnel just as a helicopter is landing.