Mount Baldy Placed Under Emergency Closure as Searchers Focus on Missing Irvine Hiker

Local News

Several areas of Mount Baldy are under emergency closures while rescue crews continue searching through treacherous conditions for an Irvine man who disappeared five days ago while on a hike, officials said Thursday.

Sree Mokkapati is seen in an undated photo released Dec. 9, 2019, by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
Sree Mokkapati is seen in an undated photo released Dec. 9, 2019, by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

Sreenivas “Sree” Mokkapati, 52, set off with a group of three other hikers early Sunday. He somehow got separated and ended up on his own in the treacherous snowy and icy terrain, officials from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

The temporary emergency closures on Mount Baldy were put into effect late Wednesday by the U.S. Forest Service because rescue crews were unable to solely focus on the search for Mokkapati.

“While searching for a missing hiker, sheriff resources have been diverted multiple times to rescue other hikers who are unprepared to be hiking in snow and ice,” officials from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Emergency Management Team said in a tweet.

At a vigil Wednesday night in Upland, family, friends and fellow hikers gathered to urge volunteers to continue searching for the missing hiker, and held up signs that said, “Don’t Give Up,” and “Miss U SREE Come Soon.”

“We know how strong he is and what he can do to survive,” Luc Lemans, a colleague of the missing hiker said at the vigil.

Sheriff’s spokesperson Cindy Bachman said nine search and rescue volunteers from San Bernardino, Orange County, Los Angeles and San Diego counties were on the mountain looking for Mokkaparti this week.

“One of the patrol shifts while they were up there did see a set of individual tracks and they were able to direct one of the search teams to that area to follow those tracks,” Bachman said.

Authorities said although wind could hamper search efforts from the air, on Thursday the amount of rescuers was doubled with crews from Tulare, Fresno and San Mateo joining the search.

“That helps us out a bunch and we are able to cover a few more areas,” Detective Brent Meelker, of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Fontana Station, told KTLA. “Following up on a few more clues today that popped up yesterday, more tracks. So hopefully that will yield something.”

The group of hikers reported Mokkaparti missing Sunday afternoon when they returned to their vehicles.  Mokkaparti is described as an “experienced hiker” who has climbed Mount Baldy several times, but officials said he only had supplies for a one day trek.

Mokkaparti was last seen wearing a puffer jacket and gray pants when he disappeared.

The emergency closure on Mount Baldy is in effect until Dec. 31, or until the search operation concludes.

The closure impacts dispersed recreation, recreation at Forest Service recreation sites, hiking, cross country skiing and other recreation trails, forest officials said.

Mount Baldy Road, concessionaire and Mount Baldy Resort remain open. Visitors are still allowed to go skiing at the resort during the closure.

Residents and anyone who owns or lease land are exempt to “the extent necessary ” of accessing their homes and properties.

Anyone with information on Mokkapati’s whereabouts can contact Sgt. Al Huff or Detective Brent Meelker at 909-453-5392 or 909-677-9436. Anonymous tips may be submitted via 800-782-7463 or www.wetip.com.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the agency for which Detective Meelker works.

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