By Mary O’KEEFE
The body of a man thought to be that of a missing hiker was found yesterday in the Old Army Pass area in the John Muir Wilderness, Inyo County.
“The body of the man found has not been positively identified as of yet,” said Jeff Mullenhour, Deputy Coroner Investigator for the Southern Region of Inyo County.
Montrose Search and Rescue members Janet Henderson, Doug Cramoline and Mike Leum, along with Dep. Jeff Martin, joined with other search and rescue teams, including those from Sierra Madre, yesterday. They were responding to a call for assistance that was sent out from Inyo County officials concerning a missing hiker, Thomas Heng, 31, from San Rafael.
Heng was on a day hiking trip to Mount Langley on Sunday.
“He initially began [his hike] with two acquaintances, but they split off from each other,” said Dana Dierkes, spokeswoman for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. “He was last seen at 1 p.m. on Sunday.”
Search and rescue teams were called out to cover a wide area search.
“He signed in [when he reached] the top of Mt. Langley and no one knew anything after that,” Leum said.
A Forest Service trail crew used binoculars and saw what they thought was a body on a ledge halfway down a cliff, Leum added.
“It appears the man was found on a ledge about 300 feet below [the top of a cliff],” Mullenhour said.
A helicopter crew confirmed there was a man’s body on the ledge. MSR and Sierra Madre members were the first to arrive at the scene. At the time they were not certain if he was injured or was deceased. Unfortunately once they arrived they confirmed he was deceased.
The team found the man about 6 p.m. Due to the hour, the helicopter was not able to extract the body.
“They decided to wait until [Thursday] morning,” Leum said.
From what Leum could gather from the other hikers, there had been a hailstorm sometime after Heng had made it to the summit.
Heng appeared to be on the trail leading down from the mountain when he may have fallen. The incident is under investigation, according to Dierkes.
Heng’s family was on its way to the coroner’s office as of 5 p.m. on Thursday, Mullenhour said.
In addition to the lead agencies, the following organizations were part of the search efforts: China Lake Mountain Rescue Group, Friends of Yosemite Search and Rescue (“YODOGS”), Inyo National Forest, Manzanar National Historic Site, Montrose Search and Rescue, Sierra Madre Search and Rescue, Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, and Yosemite National Park.