Climber on Thunder Mt. believed dead

Search teams unable to reach man on steep terrain on Tuesday night

Posted: Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Juneau Mountain Rescue team members were set to recover a 20-year-old Minneapolis man from Thunder Mountain today after searchers found him motionless Tuesday on a steep slope.

Nick Masciopinto came to Alaska for the summer, staying with relatives of his mother, Alaska State Trooper Glenn Knapp said. Masciopinto set off alone Monday for a day hike on the Thunder Mountain Trail in the Mendenhall Valley.

The chances of the hiker being alive appeared "nonexistent" Tuesday night, based upon the appearance of the still body and a heat-measuring thermal imager, said Eric Mohrmann, Capital City Fire and Rescue chief.

Searchers aboard a TEMSCO helicopter radioed into Knapp at about 4:15 p.m. Tuesday that the missing hiker had been located about 1,100 feet from the top of the 2,800-foot peak. Teams couldn't reach him because of the difficult terrain and encroaching darkness.

"For the safety of rescue personnel, we will not attempt a rescue tonight," Mohrmann said. "We estimate it will take 10 to 12 hours to complete the climb."

Plans called for Juneau Mountain Rescue, which had team members searching in the early dark hours of Tuesday, to ascend the mountain early today.

The climbers will prepare the hiker to be picked up by a cable from a helicopter, Mohrmann said.

Masciopinto was due home from his hike at about 6 p.m. Monday, said Trooper Sgt. David Tracy, who supervised the first 14 hours of the search from the end of Jennifer Drive near the trailhead. The hiker called his family at 7 p.m., saying he would be late. At 8:15 he called to say he had lost the trail and was almost a third of the way down the mountain. Troopers were told Masciopinto could see houses in the Valley and would try to make it down.

After that, he couldn't be reached by his cell phone, Tracy said.

"That's when the troopers were contacted, and we mobilized Mountain Rescue and SEADOGS (Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Searches)," he said. TEMSCO joined in the search at 6:30 a.m. and for most of the day flew helicopters slowly over the heavily wooded and steep mountain.

Mohrmann said he couldn't speculate how Masciopinto got to the place where he was found. He said the decision not to recover him until Wednesday was a tough one.

One suggestion was to have a team rappel from a helicopter to prepare the hiker to be recovered, but he said there isn't anyone trained to do that.

He said that as well as recovering the hiker, the safety of the rescuers must be considered.

"This terrain is rather hazardous and difficult to reach," Mohrmann said. "We've looked at all the possibilities."

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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