An intense multi-agency search has entered its 10th day for a man who failed to return from a multi-day backcountry ski trip. The subject of the search is U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lieutenant Matthew Kraft, 24, from Washington, Conn., but based at Camp Pendleton, Calif. 1st Lt. Kraft is 6’1” and 185 pounds.
Kraft’s planned itinerary was the 195-mile Sierra High Route, which parallels the Sierra Crest from Independence to Bridgeport. The SHR is about 200 miles in length and passes through Kings Canyon and Yosemite national parks and John Muir and Ansel Adams wilderness. The majority of the route is off any established trail.
Searchers feel confident that Kraft entered the Sierra east of the town of Independence as planned due to the location of his rental Jeep. He would have skied up and over Kearsarge Pass on February 24, 2019.
According to his itinerary, he planned on traveling north and concluding his trek on March 4 or 5 near the Twin Lakes area between Yosemite and Bridgeport. This would require him to travel more than 20 miles per day in conditions that included steep, snow-covered, avalanche-prone terrain and several winter storms.
Kraft commissioned as a Marine Corps officer on May 6, 2016, and graduated from some of the Marine Corps’s most rigorous training, including the Infantry Officer Course and Winter Mountain Leaders Course.
On March 4, 1st Lt. Kraft’s father contacted Mono Sheriff after not hearing from his son. Mono County Sheriff’s Office began checking trailheads in the Bridgeport area that day. Cell phone forensics initiated by Mono County Sheriff showed that Kraft’s last phone activity was in the Independence area.
Inyo County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue began a search on March 5. On the evening of March 8, 1st Lt. Kraft’s vehicle was located at the Grays Meadows Campground a few miles west of Independence.
Both aerial and ground search operations have been utilized, however, weather conditions in the Sierra have been a significant challenge. Additionally, both ground teams and aerial support have noted avalanche activity throughout the wilderness, including along the Sierra High Route.
Backcountry snow instability and weather issues, including high winds, have also hindered search efforts. Both aerial and ground searchers have identified avalanche activity, cornices, and snow bridges throughout the region, including along the Sierra High Route. The search zone has been determined to be larger than the state of Rhode Island and consists of the 195-mile Sierra High Route as well as multiple points of potential exit, including Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon.
In previous days, Inyo SAR was busy with aerial reconnaissance; areas covered included trails and surrounding areas near Kearsarge Pass and Onion Valley Road. CHP Inland Division Air Operations assisted. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks performed aerial searches along with on-the-ground searchers in areas that were determined to be safe and accessible from Cedar Grove.
Highly experienced alpine skiers and mountaineers with Mono SAR, Inyo SAR, National Park Service, and Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center have been deployed to the search area. Searchers are continuing to look for any clue or evidence linking Kraft to a particular area.
Additional ground searches are also being coordinated by multiple agencies if searchers feel they can be inserted safely; avalanche issues remain a concern.
Air support is being coordinated with Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Fresno County Sheriff, California Highway Patrol, Air National Guard, and United States Marine Corps. Fresno Sheriff, Mono Sheriff, Inyo Sheriff, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks are currently in Unified Command; Dave Fox of Sequoia-Kings Canyon is incident commander.
Other agencies assisting include United States Marine Corps, Madera County Sheriff, Yosemite National Park, and California Office of Emergency Services. In addition, two Marines from Kraft’s unit are assisting authorities at the Search and Rescue Coordination Center.
Anyone who has been in the search area since February 23, whether they encountered Kraft or not, is asked to call (888) 653-0009 or visit www.nps.gov/orgs/1563/submit-a-tip.htm.