Team recovers hiker's body

Troopers: Man had head injuries from 1,000-foot fall

Posted: Thursday, July 21, 2005

Rescue teams recovered the body of a 20-year-old man from Thunder Mountain on Wednesday, a day after searchers reported he appeared to be dead on an inaccessible spot of the steep slope.

Nick Masciopinto, who came from the Minneapolis area, apparently died from injuries sustained in a fall of about 1,000 feet, according to Alaska State Trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson. Masciopinto was found with head injuries. It appeared he fell down some loose shale on the mountain.

"We really feel for the family and friends when something like this happens," said Doug Wessen of Juneau Mountain Rescue. He was one of about 20 people involved in the search. "It looked like he died from the fall."

Masciopinto was found just below the 1,600-foot level of the 2,800-foot mountain, Wessen said.

Five Juneau Mountain Rescue team members climbed to reach his body Wednesday morning. Although the climb was expected to take all day, the first man reached the hiker in a little over two hours, Wessen said.

The team members prepared Masciopinto's body to be picked up by a helicopter, which took him to the mountaintop, where members of the fire department's Rope Rescue Team placed his body inside the aircraft.

Wessen said it looked like the hiker was about a third- to a half-mile off the Thunder Mountain Trail when he fell. Footprints indicated that Masciopinto hiked along the ridge of the mountain. The trailhead faces Glacier Valley Elementary School, but his body was found on a part of the mountain facing Floyd Dryden Middle School, Wessen said.

Masciopinto had been in Juneau for about three weeks and was unfamiliar with the trails, Wilkinson said. Troopers coordinating the search Tuesday said he had come to spend the summer with one of his mother's relatives.

He set out on what was planned as a day hike on the Thunder Mountain Trail at about 1 p.m. Monday, with a rain slicker and minimal amounts of food and water, Wilkinson said.

Troopers mobilized Juneau Mountain Rescue and SEADOGS - Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Searches - after midnight Tuesday. Wessen said the first Juneau Mountain Rescue team members began searching the mountain at about 2 a.m.

A TEMSCO helicopter joined in the search at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. At about 4:15 p.m., a spotter aboard a helicopter saw Masciopinto face down and motionless, Wilkinson said.

Thermal imaging from a helicopter Tuesday evening failed to register a heat signature from the body, he said.

Capital City Fire and Rescue Chief Eric Mohrmann said the decision was made Tuesday night to recover the apparently dead hiker Wednesday because it would have been hazardous to climb at night.

Masciopinto was the second hiker to die from a fall on a Mendenhall Valley mountain this year. In May, Jonathan Scribner, a Juneau resident and retired state official, apparently fell from a steep slope on Mount Stroller White, near the Mendenhall Glacier. Scribner was an experienced hiker on Juneau and Southeast Alaska trails.

Wessen said taking a cell phone on hikes is a great idea. If hikers find themselves lost toward nightfall, it's best to call for help and stay put, he said.

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