A massive search continued Saturday in the High Sierra mountains for a Marine reported missing during a scheduled 10-day backcountry ski trip.
1st Lt. Matthew Kraft, who serves as an infantry officer, was reported missing to local law enforcement after failing to show up on his return date from a backcountry skiing trip on the Sierra High Route. Kraft is serving with the 1st Battalion/7th Marines at Twentynine Palms and is based out of the 1st Marine Division headquartered at Camp Pendleton.
Kraft’s itinerary began out of the Kearsarge Pass trailhead on Feb. 23 and the trip was scheduled to end March 4 or 5 near Bridgeport and the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, said Capt. Paul Gainey, with the 1st Marine Division.
A search for Kraft began on March 4 with the Mono County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team. The search has expanded and is now a joint operation with the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office, the Mono County Sheriff’s Office and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.
Assisting agencies include personnel from the California Highway Patrol, the California Office of Emergency Services, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia and Kings National Park, Madera County Sheriff’s Office and the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center. Aerial support was being provided by the Fresno County Sheriff, CHP H-80, CHP H-40 and the Air National Guard.
Kraft’s Jeep was found around 9 p.m. Friday by Inyo Search and Rescue near Lower Grays Meadows, above the town of Independence, the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office said.
On Saturday, Inyo Search and Rescue deployed a snowcat that took team members to a lift system that uses a rope to pull skiers up vertical terrain. From there rescue team members on skis were able to get up to the Onion Valley parking area above Independence, said Carma Roper, a spokesperson for the Inyo County Sheriff. Onion Valley Road is closed for the winter with heavy snow and potential rock slides. The snowcat is the best way to access the parking area near the Kearsarge trail-head.
“The search and rescue team members will clear as much area as possible on Kearsarge Pass,” Roper said. “Team members will work as long as weather permits; another storm is anticipated this afternoon through Sunday.”
Kraft, who has a lot of experience in mountaineering, is highly trained. He was on the trip alone.
“We’re optimistic he has all the tools he needs to survive,” Gainey said. “Anytime a Marine takes liberty we make sure he has a plan. He communicated his itinerary and the gear he had. He also gave us information on his drop-off and pick-up point.”
As an infantry officer, Kraft is trained in land navigation and survival, Gainey said.
“He has the skills to survive in an austere environment,” he said. “We’re hoping for the best.”
Anyone with information on Kraft’s whereabouts should contact Inyo County Sheriff’s Office at (760) 878-0383, option 4; Mono County Sheriff’s Office at (760) 932-7549, option 7; or the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office at (559) 600-8400.
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