Multi-Day Search Operation for Missing Hiker on Whitney Trail

One of the largest, longest, and most well-publicized missions in Inyo SAR’s recent history concluded on Friday June 20 with the recovery of the body of John Likely, a hiker who had gone missing on the Whitney Trail on June 14. See below for details:

June 16, 2014
Contact: Carma Roper, PIO
(760) 878-0395
Whitney SAR
The Inyo County Sheriff’s Office was notified yesterday afternoon that 60-year-old John Likely from Dumont, NJ had been separated from his hiking group and hadn’t been seen since June 14th. According to information received, a group of three friends who have hiked together regularly throughout the years, summitted Mt. Whitney on June 14th. During the decent down the trail Likely was hiking at a slower pace than the other two members of the group; according to the reporting party it was not uncommon to go on ahead of Likely.

The two members of the hiking group continued their decent at a faster pace, and waited for Likely at Trail Camp. They could see Likely continuing down the switchbacks with their binoculars and decided they would continue on to Outpost Camp where they were to spend the night. Likely never made it to Outpost Camp. The two-person group searched for their friend the night of June 14th, and the morning of the 15th. The Sheriff’s Office was contacted and immediately responded with Inyo County Search and Rescue ground crews. Additional ground support is currently being provided by Mono County Search and Rescue, as well as China Lake Mountain Rescue Group. CHP helicopter H-80 is also assisting in the search.

The Sheriff’s Office is asking for any information from hikers who may have seen John Likely over the weekend. Likely is reported to be wearing a red San Francisco 49ers ball cap, a black jacket, dark colored shorts and a small backpack, he has gray hair and no facial hair. Please call Sheriff’s Dispatch at 760-878-0383 if you have any information that could assist in this search.


June 17 Update
June 18 Update
June 19 Update

June 20, 2014
Contact: Carma Roper, PIO
(760) 878-0395
Whitney SAR – John Likely, FINAL UPDATE
Early in the evening of June 19th, during an aerial reconnaissance mission above Mirror Lake west of Outpost Camp, search crews located what is believed to be the remains of missing hiker John Likely in an extremely steep chute. The recovery is technical, and requires specialized equipment and search and rescue expertise. The remains will be taken to the Inyo County Coroner for official identification, and determination of death.

“This has been an extremely difficult five-day search,” stated Inyo County Search and Rescue Coordinator Nate Derr. “From the beginning we’ve treated this mission as a rescue, not a recovery. As a team we are deeply saddened, and our thoughts go out to Likely’s family and friends during this very difficult time.”

Search and Rescue teams from all over the state of California assisted in this massive multiagency search effort to locate Likely who was last seen on June 14th after summitting Mt. Whitney. Between 90-100 SAR members have tirelessly scoured the rugged backcountry near and around the Mt. Whitney trail – many choosing to camp at various locations in order to track down clues, interview hikers, and be up and searching at first light. Sequoia-Kings National Park provided ground operations as well in the area between Trail Crest and the Crab Tree Ranger Station. Four different helicopters were used – for inserting SAR members into the backcountry, and for imagery collection and analysis.

The Inyo County Sheriff’s Office wants to acknowledge the help and assistance from the following agencies: Inyo County Search and Rescue, Mono County Search and Rescue, Antelope Valley Search and Rescue, China Lake Mountain Rescue Group, Sierra Madre Search and Rescue, Marin County Search and Rescue, Contra Costa County Search and Rescue, Monterey County Search and Rescue, San Mateo County Search and Rescue, San Bernardino County Search and Rescue, Orange County Search and Rescue, San Diego County Search and Rescue, and California Rescue Dog Association (CARDA). Additionally the Sheriff’s Office would like to acknowledge the tremendous support provided by Sequoia-Kings National Park, who not only provided ground operations, but aerial reconnaissance as well. Lastly, we want to recognize all the agencies that provided aerial support throughout the last five days: California Highway Patrol H-82 out of Apple Valley, China Lake Naval Air Base out of Ridgecrest, Sequoia-Kings, and Army National Guard out of Stockton, California. Thank you all for your tireless efforts!

From the Inyo Register:
Massive search ends with recovery effort
June 20, 2014
One of the largest search and rescue operations in Inyo County history came to an end this week with the discovery of hiker John Likely’s body.

The discovery – made early Thursday evening during the last planned reconnaissance flight of the day – brought a sad conclusion to a massive, five-day search involving almost 100 experts and professionals from across California. It was obviously not the conclusion hoped for by either Likely’s family or the searchers themselves, who refused to consider their mission a recovery rather than a rescue operation.

“This has been an extremely difficult five-day search,” Inyo County Search and Rescue Coordinator Nate Derr said Friday morning. “From the beginning, we’ve treated this mission as a rescue, not a recovery. As a team, we are deeply saddened, and our thoughts go out to Likely’s family and friends during this very difficult time.”

Likely’s body was recovered Friday afternoon from a steep chute at 11,450 feet – about 10 minutes off the Mt. Whitney Trail not far from Outpost Camp. According to Inyo County Assistant Search and Rescue Coordinator Brian Hohenstein, the recovery operation took about two hours. His team was flown into the air by an Army National Guard Chinook helicopter early Friday morning. From there, they hiked and rappelled down to the location of Likely’s body, getting it ready for transport back to the airport via Sequoia Kings Canyon helicopter. His body was lowered from the mountainside into a meadow below by the helicopter’s long line and then secured and flown back to the airport in Lone Pine, where the Inyo County Coroner was waiting. It was a final display of teamwork in a week filled with grueling physical exertion and raw grit and determination from hundreds of strangers focused on finding a man they had never met.

Derr pointed out that many searchers chose to camp on Whitney and in other areas rather than return home to rest. They wanted to be able to be up and ready to go at first light, he explained, as well as stay on the scene to track down clues and interview hikers.
Hohenstein classified the mood during the search as one of unwavering camaraderie. “Everyone was really focused and determined,” he said. “Nobody once ever gave up hope. Everybody was on top of their game, and even when they were exhausted everyone gave 110 percent. It was a great show of camaraderie by all the agencies involved.”

For more, read the Saturday, June 21 edition of The Inyo Register.


Posted in 2014, Missions Reports, Most Memorable.