Crews have suspended the search for Sreenivas "Sree" Mokkapati, a hiker who went missing on Mt. Baldy last week, following an operation that saw one SAR team member die in an apparent fall.
Mokkapati, 52, became separated from his group in bad weather during a hike up Mt. Baldy, the highest point in the Los Angeles area at 10,0069 feet, on December 8. His three partners reported him missing the same day, and by the end of the week, personnel from at least 10 counties had joined the operation. On Saturday, however, authorities called an end to the search after the death of volunteer rescue worker Timothy Staples, 32, who died in an apparent fall after losing contact with his partner. A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department helicopter later recovered his body from an icy area on the mountain.
While Mt. Baldy is one of the most popular hikes in the area, it’s not uncommon for heavy snow and extreme winds to buffet the top of the peak.
Authorities are now considering their options for potentially continuing the search. Mokkapati’s son told Los Angeles’ ABC affiliate that his father is a very experienced hiker and is familiar with the Mt. Baldy area, but was only carrying a daypack when he left. Angeles National Forest has closed the area around the peak until December 31 or Mokkapati is found.
In an unrelated incident on the mountain, authorities had to rescue two hikers after one of them fell from the Devil’s Backbone Trail near near the summit of Mt. Baldy. A helicopter carried one injured hiker off of the mountain.
Last week’s twin incidents weren’t the first time that rescue personnel have deployed to rescue or recover experienced hikers on Mt. Baldy. In April, a helicopter crew hoisted Eric Desplinter and Gabrielle Wallace to safety after spotting their campfire in Cucamonga Canyon. The pair, who had been missing for five days, had become trapped between two waterfalls. In 2017, renowned local hiker Sam Kim, a 78-year-old who had climbed Baldy more than 800 times, died after encountering bad weather near the summit.
Anyone with information regarding the disappearance of Sreenivas Mokkapati should contact the Fontana Sheriff’s Station at 909-453-5392 or 909-677-9436. When last seen, he was wearing a grey puffy jacket.