SDMRT 2019-15 Tahquitz Mutual Aid

SDMRT 2019-15 Tahquitz Mutual Aid (2 SDMRT operational periods)


Author: Will Pisarello

SDMRT Responders:


  • Peck, Dennis (RRT) – OL
  • McNaul, Bill (RRT)
  • Pisarello, Will (RRT)
  • Herman, Steve (RRT)
  • Winter, Mike (Non-rope Support)
  • Mou, John (RRT)
  • White, Brian (Non-rope Support)


  • Peck, Dennis (RRT) – OL
  • McNaul, Bill (RRT)
  • Pisarello, Will (RRT)
  • Herman, Steve (RRT)
  • Winter, Mike (Non-rope Support)
  • Mou, John (RRT)
  • White, Brian (Non-rope Support)
  • Jeff Oxford (RRT)
  • Kevin Litwin (RRT)
  • Yocum, Richard (RRT)
  • Dahlberg, Tim (RRT)
  • Rolfe, Tony (RRT)
  • Hough, Grayson (RRT)
  • Dalrymple, Will (RRT)
  • Tomatsu, Lee (RRT)
  • Hatala, John (RRT)
  • Jenkins, Pete (Non-rope Support)
  • Masser, Marshall (RRT)
  • Trigeiro, Alicia (RRT)
  • McGuinness, Nick (RRT)


  • Hugo Bermudez 9/12/19-9/13/19

Other responding organizations:

  • San Bernardino Mountain SAR, San Bernardino Cave Rescue, Bear Valley SAR, Sierra Madre SAR, Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit, Riverside Sheriff’s Department, Beaumont Police Department Drone Team
  • Operation run by Riverside Sheriff’s Department, members of Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit & Sierra Madre SAR.

Short Summary:

  • Type of callout: Type 1 searchers only. Specific request for proficient technical rope rescue personnel only.
  • Mutual Aid, Riverside County
  • Type of search: Search
  • Environment: Mountainous terrain (6500ft-8900ft), San Bernardino National Forest
  • Location (All WGS84)
    • Point Last Seen : (Estimated) Cliffs & ledges in the vicinity of 33.7588, -116.6728
    • Command Post : USFS Keenwild Helitack 535 at 33.7135, -116.7124
  • Operational periods, if applicable
    • Initial SDMRT page: 9/12/19 1145
    • Operational period, SDMRT nomenclature:
      • Period 1: 9/12/19
      • Period 2: 9/13/19
  • Information about the subjects:
    • Reporting parties suspected a female subject. No definitive information.
    • Subject not located. Search Suspended.
  • Air resources: Riverside County Sheriff’s Aviation Unit STAR9 (Eurocopter AS350), Beaumont Police Department Drone


On Wednesday 9/11/19 six hikers all reported seeing and hearing a female hiker in distress in the area of the Pacific Crest Trail x Southridge trail (estimated 33.75881, -116.67283). The distressed hiker yelled from across the ridge that she had fallen, was hurt, and needed assistance. She was reported to be wearing red and positioned on a ledge about 40’ below the top of a cliff face. They reported their findings to the volunteers in the nearby lookout tower.

First SAR team deployments were unable to make contact with the subject and were significantly limited by the technical terrain. A helicopter search on 9/11/19 produced no findings. The trailheads were searched for vehicles. A Sheriff’s Department drone team deployed on 9/12/19 reported hearing calls from the subject, “I’m over here,” in close vicinity to the location reported by the hikers, but could not establish contact. No persons were visible in the drone footage.

Initial mutual aid call to SDMRT was for an operation beginning the afternoon of 9/12/19. Upon arrival of SDMRT personal at CP (1600-1700), command staff reevaluated based on the conditions reported by fielded teams and postponed operations to 9/13/19. There was significant concern about the technical terrain of loose ground and steep cliffs. SDMRT personnel were provided accommodations at the Riverside County Sheriff substation in Mountain Center.

Operations resumed 0700 9/13/19. Approximately 6 teams were inserted by helicopter at the summit of Tahquitz Peak (33.7554, -116.6766). Assignments were to fully inspect the cliffs in the area of the PLS for signs of the subject. This entailed rappelling & ascending fixed lines along the cliff face from approximately 33.7588, -116.6728 to 33.7615, -116.6739.

A single ground team (Dahlberg, Masser, Winter) was deployed from Humber Park with the assignment to ascend 2400ft up the trail-less gully towards the PLS. This team deserves special praise for promptly volunteering for the most difficult assignment of the day.

The Beaumont Police Department Drone Team also searched the area.

Teams were extracted from the summit of Tahquitz peak between 1300 & 1600.

No sign of the subject was found by any team. The Sheriff department’s assumption is that the subject self-rescued. They are currently reaching out on social media & PCT hiker message boards for information. As of 9/13/19 no persons were reported missing, no trailhead registers had unaccounted for hikers, and no trailheads had unaccounted for overnight vehicles.

Lessons learned / suggestions for future operations:

  • Teams should radio check both the relay & the command post before deployment. In this case, there was an issue with the relay radio which was not initially checked by field teams.
  • Mutual aid coordination should include the desired number of personnel. In this case, the requesting county did not specify, was not asked, and received twice the number they were seeking.
  • Mutual aid requests for type-1 searchers assume technical rope rescue proficiency. Some teams/personnel arrived without equipment or expertise and were turned away.