‘Dedicated volunteer’ rescue worker died while searching for missing hiker in California

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MOUNT BALDY, Calif. -- A volunteer rescue worker died Saturday, Dec. 14 while searching for a hiker on Mount Baldy in California, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said.

Timothy Staples of the West Valley Search and Rescue team was among those looking for Sreenivas "Sree" Mokkapati, a 52-year-old reported missing Dec. 8 while hiking to the Mount Baldy summit.

At 1 p.m. local time Saturday, Staples' partner said on the radio they had become separated from each other, the sheriff's department said in a news release.

A helicopter from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office responded and found Staples unresponsive "in an area of ice and snow," the sheriff said.

A medic was lowered to Staples, 32, but he was already dead, the sheriff's department said.

The West Valley Search and Rescue team said on Facebook that Staples died "after a horrible fall."

The sheriff's department said the investigation into his death is ongoing.

Staples was a "dedicated volunteer" for nine years, the sheriff's department said.

The search for Mokkapati has been suspended while the operation is "reevaluated," the sheriff's department said.

Last week, the U.S. Forest Service closed parts of Mount Baldy to help teams find Mokkapati. The sheriff's office described him as "an experienced hiker" who had been on the mountain numerous times.

He was reported missing after he was separated from three others. They reported Mokkapati missing after returning to their car, the sheriff's department previously said.

Mokkapati expected the excursion to last a day and had few supplies.

On Tuesday, Dec. 10, the sheriff's department reported snow at 7,000 to 7,500 feet in the area and waist-deep at some elevations.

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