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Quintet rescued in Death Valley

November 15, 2011

Five hikers apparently took a wrong turn on their way back from Telescope Peak (above) in Death Valley last week, prompting a search and rescue effort. All five hikers were located and returned to civilization safely. Photo courtesy National Park Service

Several hikers were rescued from the wilds of Death Valley late last week after becoming lost and then stranded.
Inyo County Search and Rescue personnel along with Death Valley National Park rangers headed up a successful search effort Friday that resulted in the return of five young adults to safety from the area of Telescope Peak.
According to the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department, authorities had launched a full-scale search effort after being notified the group was overdue. A friend told the Sheriff’s Department the party had planned to descend Telescope Peak via Surprise Canyon Wednesday, Nov. 9 and complete the hike Thursday, Nov. 10.
“The group carried enough water and supplies to complete the trip in two days,” Sheriff’s Public Information Officer Carma Roper said. “When the party failed to return Nov. 10, a concerned friend contacted the National Park Service,” who in turn contacted Inyo SAR.
The five hikers were Audrey Hommeyer, 18, of St. Paul, Minn.; Clayton Buffer, 22, of Columbus, Ohio; James Kennedy, 22, of Columbus; Joshua Jones, 24, of Columbia, Mo.; and Brendan Knipfing, 19, of Colts Neck, N.J.
A multi-agency search began Friday, Nov. 11, including Inyo County Sheriff’s Department, Search and Rescue, China Lake Mountain Rescue Group, Death Valley National Park rangers, China Lake Naval Weapons helicopter VX-1 and the California Emergency Management Agency.
Inyo SAR and Death Valley National Park took joint control of the operation, using the Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station as their command post.
While en route to Stovepipe Wells at about 6 a.m., China Lake Mountain Rescue Group volunteers located Jones and Knipfing along Wildrose-Trona Road. The duo advised that the rest of the party was stranded on a cliff, located in the south fork of Hall Canyon.
The China Lake Mountain Rescue Group coordinated with Inyo Search and Rescue and Death Valley Rangers, and headed to Hall Canyon to retrieve the remaining hikers.
Roper said the Mountain Rescue Group team member was lowered to the stranded hikers via a China Lake Black Hawk helicopter. All three were winched into the helicopter and flown to safety.
All parties were reunited at the Hall Canyon Trailhead, located on Indian Ranch Road within Panamint Valley.
“The overdue party explained that poor navigation skills and inexperience were the cause of the party attempting a trip above their comfort level and descending the wrong canyon,” Roper said.
“The operation ran like clockwork because of the working relationship between members of all agencies involved,” Inyo County Search and Rescue Coordinator Tim Winkler said.
The Inyo County Search and Rescue Team is a volunteer organization that meets the first Thursday of every month at the Posse Hut on Airport Road in Bishop.
Those who are interested in joining are welcome to attend one of the monthly meetings or call the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department at (870) 878-0323.

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