Mount Baldy

Volunteer Rescuer Dies While Searching for Missing Hiker on Mount Baldy

The death happened almost a week into the search for missing hiker Sreenivas "Sree" Mokkapati

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A member of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue team died Saturday while searching for missing hiker Sree Mokkapati on Mount Baldy in California. 

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said in a tweet at 5:02 p.m. that a rescue team member was separated from his partner and found unresponsive after an air search. They identified him as Timothy Staples, 32, a volunteer for the West Valley Search and Rescue Team.

"He was an extremely dedicated volunteer, loved the opportunity to participate in search and rescue and really loved what he did," Sgt. Jeff Allison of the Sheriff's Department said.

Around 1 p.m., Staples' partner radioed for help on the mountain. Staples is presumed to have fallen down an ice chute. A medic was lowered to him and found Staples dead in the ice and snow, according to officials.

Search operations for Mokkapati have been suspended and crews have been recalled from the mountain. As of Sunday afternoon, the search for Mokkapati was still suspended.

The Sheriff's Department shared a statement from the Staples family on Twitter Sunday afternoon in which they expressed their grief and asked for privacy at this difficult time.

Staples was a 9-year veteran of the search and rescue team, highly skilled and was one of 126 people working in 23 teams searching large sections of the mountain for Mokkapati, the Sheriff's Department said.

Damien High School
A picture from Damien High School shows a smiling Timothy Staples, a highly skilled volunteer who died while on a search and rescue mission on Mount Baldy Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019.

He was a beloved track and field coach at Damien High School in La Verne, where he also taught Social Science and English, according to the high school.

In a statement from Damien High School, Staples was described as newly married and a 2006 graduate of the high school. They are planning to host a prayer service on Monday, Dec. 16.

Mokkapati's family and friends are planning on organizing a vigil for Staples outside of Damien High School at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.

"The Damien High School community is devastated by the loss of a
beloved and devoted member of our social science and English faculty," the
school said in a statement posted on Facebook. "He was a favorite teacher among his students. Tim also coached cross country and track and field.''

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