Missing Irvine hiker’s remains found on Mt. Baldy
Hikers have found the remains of an Irvine man over six months after he went missing during a snowstorm on Mt. Baldy, prompting a desperate search that led to the death of a volunteer rescuer.
A pair of hikers reported finding human remains on June 19, near the top of Fish Fork on the northwest side of Mt. Baldy at an elevation of 7,800 feet, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department officials said in a Monday news release. Coroner’s officials confirmed Saturday, June 27, that they belonged to Sreenivas “Sree” Mokkapati, 52. He had been missing since Dec. 8, 2019.
Friends described Mokkapati as an experienced hiker, but he became separated from his group while coming down from Mt. Baldy’s summit. He only had a day’s worth of supplies with him at the time.
More than 125 people gave their own time to comb through treacherous terrain that was covered with over four feet of fresh snow in an effort to find Mokkapati. Damien High School teacher and nine-year veteran of the West Valley Search and Rescue Team Tim Staples, 32, was one of those volunteers.
Staples was looking for Mokkapati, and became separated from his partner at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14. He was found dead about 30 minutes later after apparently falling down an ice chute.
Staples’s death led authorities to reevaluate the rescue operation and recall search teams from the mountain. Aerial sweeps by helicopter later resumed, and ground crews returned after the snowpack melted away in May. However, Mokkapati’s whereabouts remained a mystery until his remains were found this month.