No evidence of missing Marine has been found along planned backcountry ski trip along the Sierra High Route
A massive multi-agency search in the High Sierra mountains has not turned up any evidence of a missing infantry Marine officer from Camp Pendleton, officials said Saturday, March 16.
The Marine, 1st Lt. Matthew Kraft, who is serving with the 1st Battalion/7th Marines at Twentynine Palms and is based out of the 1st Marine Division headquartered at Camp Pendleton, set out on the solo backcountry skiing trip on Feb. 23 with an itinerary to complete a 195-mile trek along the Sierra High Route. The trip was to be done over 10 days, and Kraft notified family and the Marine Corps that he expected to arrive at Bridgeport on March 4 or 5.
The Sierra High Route is a well-known backcountry route that parallels the John Muir Trail. Elevations along the route range between 9,000 and 11,500 feet.
“Search and rescue authorities have been unable to locate evidence of Kraft’s location along his planned route,” Carma Roper, a spokeswoman with the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office, said Saturday. “Beginning today the search operation will transition into a limited continuous search status until Kraft is found.”
The search for Kraft began March 4 after his father contacted the Mono County Sheriff’s Office after not hearing from his son. A sheriff’s team first looked for him at trailheads in the Bridgeport area. Inyo County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue began a search March 5. Kraft had submitted his plan to the Marine Corps and had planned to start out at the Kearsarge Pass and travel along the backcountry route. A rental vehicle he was using was found near Grays Meadows campground above Independence on March 8.
For more than a week 13 agencies have been involved in a massive search looking through an area that is larger than the state of Rhode Island, Roper said.
“Backcountry snow instability and weather issues, including high winds, have been a significant challenge for search crews,” Roper said. “Both aerial and ground searches have identified avalanche activity, cornices, and snow bridges throughout the wilderness, including along the Sierra High Route.”
Aerial reconnaissance and ground teams have been deployed to the search area; however to date there have been no substantiated clues that link Kraft to any particular search area, she said.
The most recent report came on Thursday — during the ninth day of the rescue effort — where teams from the Inyo County and Mono County sheriff’s offices continued aerial reconnaissance of trails surrounding Kearsarge Pass and Onion Valley Road. That pass was where Kraft had planned to start his trip. At that time, search and rescue teams also conducted surveillance near Big Pothole Lake.
Air support came from Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake and the Marine Corps. The Army National Guard also has been flying the route daily with thermal imagery. Several “points of interest” were found from the aerial reconnaissance but turned out be animal dens.
Search crews also employed RECCO technology, which uses an electronic device to find people buried in an avalanche, but Kraft has not been found, Roper said.
“The Marine Corps, along with the other assisting agencies, will continue to stand by and support Kraft’s family, friends, and Marines during this difficult time,” she said.
The Marine Corps is committed to finding him, Capt. Paul Gainey, with the 1st Marine Division, said.