Authorities in Southern California found a hiker dead Sunday after she was reported missing a week earlier.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said it received a call Feb. 4 about a hiker who was alone in the Mount Baldy area of the San Gabriel Mountains and had not been heard from for several hours, according to a press release.
The crew began the search, but was called off due to mountain conditions. On Saturday, a citizen flying a drone reported that he may have located the woman.
After further weather delays, medics were flown to the scene Sunday, where they located the woman identified as Lifei Huang, 22, of El Monte.
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Weather and mountain conditions thwarted rescue efforts
The day Huang disappeared, an atmospheric river dumped rain and snowfall in the west, causing devastating floods and mudslides throughout the region and turning into heavy snowfall as it moved up the mountain. Weather conditions and the risk of avalanches after the storm repeatedly thwarted the authorities’ search efforts:
- Monday February 5: After Huang was reported missing, a search and rescue team arrived in the Mount Baldy area and began searching, but did not find the woman.
- Tuesday February 6: The teams continued the search in the heavily snowed area; However, avalanche hazards hampered search efforts and crews were evacuated from the mountain, sheriff’s officials said. Rescue crews remained at the trailhead and continued searching when conditions were safe, sheriff’s officials said.
- Friday February 9: Sheriff’s officials said Huang was still missing and ground efforts would resume when weather and mountain conditions improved.
Even after the storm, Huang’s friends, who know her as Ada, remained hopeful.
“We do everything for her,” cousin Ally Zhang told KABC 7. “We never blamed her for doing this. We don’t think she wanted this to happen.”
Around 3:25 p.m. on Saturday, February 10, the U.S. Department of Forestry told the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office that a citizen piloting a drone may have spotted Huang’s body.
When rescuers arrived, they were unable to walk to where Huang’s body was likely located because of dangerous conditions on the mountain, authorities said. Sheriff’s air crews were also unable to conduct an aerial search due to high winds. Emergency services spent the night near the scene to preserve the area.
At 7:45 a.m. on Sunday, February 11, Sheriff’s Air Rescue Plane 306 hoisted medics to the scene. Huang’s body was then airlifted off the mountain. The San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner’s Division will determine the cause of Huang’s death.
Mount Baldy is known to be dangerous for hikers
Huang is not the first life lost on Mount Baldy. In recent years, the sheriff’s department has conducted more than 100 search and rescue operations to find missing hikers, resulting in more than 10 deaths.
The dangerous nature of Mount Baldy was highlighted in January 2023, when accomplished climber and actor Julian Sands went missing and was found dead.
The local sheriff asked lawmakers for help in adding security measures, pointing to the high costs associated with rescue missions.
Besides the financial costs, the search and rescue missions came with a much higher price: the death of 32-year-old Tim Staples. In 2019, Staples, a nine-year veteran of search and rescue, was one of 126 volunteers searching for a missing person. hiker on the icy and rugged terrain of Mount Baldy. Staples became separated from his partner and was later found dead after suffering a fatal fall.
The problem extends beyond Mount Baldy, and rescuers in Southern California are struggling to keep up.
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