Hiker Haunted by Last Images of Man Who Vanished on Mt. Baldy

Justin Williams snapped a photo of friend Sreenivas "Sree" Mokkapati as the experienced hiker disappeared into the wilderness

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The search for a 52-year-old Irvine man who went missing while hiking with three other people in the mountains northeast of Los Angeles resumed Thursday morning, a day after a candlelight vigil was held in the man's honor.

Mokkapati and his group started hiking from the Village at Bear Flats to the Mt. Baldy Summit on Sunday morning, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. At some point, Mokkapati became separated from the group.

Justin Williams

At a Wednesday night candlelight vigil, his son, Shravan Mokkapati, said it was "heartbreaking" to find out that his father was not among four other stranded or injured hikers rescue teams came across during the day. He also pleaded for more certified volunteers to help search for his father.

The last person to see him, Justin Williams, said he wished he would have told Sree to turn back. A photo shows Mokkapati, his back turned to the camera, in the snow-covered wilderness on Mt. Baldy.

"I keep reliving that moment in my mind," Williams said. "He muttered something, I didn't quite hear what he said, and then he just kept walking."

Williams said Mokkapati seemed to disappear into the distance after he snapped the photo.

On Thursday, Angeles National Forest issued an emergency closure for parts of Mt. Baldy during the search. The closure is in effect until Dec. 31 or when search-and-rescue operations end.

Search and rescue volunteer teams from San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Orange, Kern and San Diego counties, with assistance from two sheriff's helicopters, searched the mountain for any sign of Sree or his direction of travel, the department said. Teams searched in snow covered conditions at elevations of about 7,000 feet and in some higher elevations the snow is waist deep, the department said.

The department said Mokkapati is an experienced hiker who has hiked in the area many times. He was prepared for a day hike with limited supplies.

Mokkapati was last seen wearing a gray puffy jacket and gray pants. Anyone with information was urged to contact the Fontana Sheriff's Station at 909-453-5392 or 909-677-9436.

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