Commander Dave Fox of the National Park Service (NPS) Incident Management Team announced Thursday that efforts to locate Larry Conn – a hiker who went missing in California’s Kings Canyon National Park last week – have been suspended after an intensive eight-day search – at elevations from 8,000 to 14,000 feet – failed to turn up any clues as to his whereabouts. At its height, the widespread aerial and ground search involved 56 personnel from several different agencies, with 10 ground search teams, three dog teams, and five helicopters.
Conn – a Los Angeles-based attorney who works at Polsinelli Shughart – began a four-day trip in the rugged mountain wilderness of Kings Canyon National Park starting at Taboose Pass on October 19, when he was seen by an outbound hiker. A winter storm that arrived in the area on the evening of October 20 dumped around 12 inches of snow in the 48-square-mile search area and obliterated tracks which may have helped pinpoint his location.
Larry was reported overdue to the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department on the evening of October 23, and the Sheriff’s Department confirmed his vehicle was still at the trailhead. On October 24, the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department notified the National Park Service of the missing hiker. Search operations began in Kings Canyon National Park on October 24 and continued through October 31.
With overnight temperatures dropping as low as 15 degrees Fahrenheit and with snowdrifts making foot travel extremely difficult any chance of Conn making it out of the High Sierras alive is rapidly diminishing. However, given the right clothing and equipment, some form of shelter and the ability to melt snow to provide water a successful outcome remains a possibility and Conn’s extensive hiking and backpacking experience – he successfully summited the 14,505 ft tall peak of Mt. Whitney in 1997 – is a huge positive in this respect.
According to Squadron Leader Leigh Gothard, a former navigator with Britain’s RAF Search and Rescue 22/202 helicopter squadrons and also a Combat Survival Instructor, “you can survive for two to three weeks at least if you continue to have water.” However, Leigh also pointed out that a hiker who is wearing dark clothing and who isn’t carrying a pyro or signal flare can be very hard to spot from the air. “People become indistinguishable from rocks,” he said. “On Ben Nevis (the highest mountain in the British Isles) what I thought was a rock turned out to be the casualty we were looking for,” he added. In that particular instance the casualty didn’t make it.
You can find search updates at the Kings Canyon National Park website.
- Kings Canyon National Park launches search for missing CA hiker