TNSAR Search 06/07/2008

Lost Backpacker in the Eagle Lake Area

On Monday, June 2nd, Thomas Hylton, 70, and Jerome Smith, 78, set out on a four day backpack trip into the Desolation Wilderness starting at the Eagle Lake Trailhead. They were due to return from the trip on the afternoon of Thursday, June 5th and when they did not come out as planned, the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office (EDCSO) was contacted and a missing persons report was initiated.

According to press releases from the EDCSO, a search and rescue operation started Thursday afternoon using a helicopter and ground teams who searched into the evening hours but did not find the men.

On Friday morning, June 5th, EDCSO resumed the search and early in the morning the camp site was located. Mr. Hylton was found deceased at the site and Mr. Smith was still missing. The camp site was located south of Eagle Lake above the Emerald Bay Trail approximately .70 miles from the junction with the Eagle Lake Trail. Both packs and all of the equipment they packed in were still at the site. In addition, all of the food the men had brought in was at the site and was untouched. It appears the men stopped well short of their first night destination of the Velma Lakes area. The search for Smith continued into Friday afternoon, but he was not located.

Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue was paged out by the Placer County Sheriff's Office (PCSO) on Friday afternoon for search operations on Saturday, June 6th to assist El Dorado County. Eight team members along with one member from the PCSO Dog Team from Auburn left the Burton Creek Sheriff's Office at 6:30 AM for the trip to Emerald Bay.

Upon arrival at the Eagle Lake Trailhead, TNSAR members geared up and met with EDCSO incident command to be briefed on our assigned search areas. The TNSAR members were divided into two teams of four and were assigned to search Eagle Creek between Highway 89 and Eagle Lake. Team B was assigned the north side of Eagle Creek and Team C was assigned the south side of Eagle Creek to the cliffs to the south. The plan was to bushwhack every inch of the area between the highway and the lake and verify that Mr. Smith was not in the area.

Both teams worked the area between the trailhead and Eagle Lake for several hours through dense brush. When team B reached Eagle Lake, they contoured around the north side of the lake with the intention of checking the drainage on the west end of the lake. When Team C reached the lake, it was decided to follow the Emerald Bay Trail up to the creek on the south side of Eagle Lake and work the brush on the slope between the trail and Eagle Lake.

As Team C worked their way downhill from the trail, the vegetation was very thick and at times was very steep. Approximately 2/3rd of the way down the slope, Mr. Smith's body was located by team C in the brush, approximately 20' east of the creek.

As team C waited at the site for the evacuation plan, team B made their way to the south side of the lake and joined up with team C to assist. Shortly after team B arrived, CHP helicopter H24 arrived and circled the area to shoot photographs of the scene. The pilot of the helicopter then performed an impressive skid drop of the EDCSO deputy on a steep, rocky slope with little room for error.

Once the coroners work was completed, the team packaged Mr. Smith into a Bowman bag and then he was long lined out of the area by the CHP helicopter. Both teams then packed up and made the short hike out to the Eagle Lake Trailhead and were out of the field by 3:30 PM.

Here are some pictures by David Wright.

Sheriff Dispatch Comm Van Truck Skiers Snow Cats Snowmobiles
Sage Bourassa Russ Viehmann Sara Barrett
David Wright
Sarah Lagano
Bernie Mellor
Steve Twomey
Jimmy Smith
Michael LeFrancois
Chris McConnell