How mine rescue teams removed hiker's body from mud caves - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

How mine rescue teams removed hiker's body from mud caves

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - A member of the mine search and rescue team that removed the body of hiker Guillermo Pino from a mud cave in the Anza-Borrego desert is sharing an inside look into the delicate operation.

"We had a total of 10 people in the cave. We had 3 teams digging simultaneously," Art Fortini, Operations Leader with the Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team, told News 8.  The team members, along with the Montrose Search and Rescue Team, spent nearly 12 hours Tuesday working to retrieve the body of Guillermo Pino Jr. from the mud caves.

Fortini said, "I would say this is probably the most technically challenging rescue I've been on with the mine rescue team."

Teams used sledgehammers and air chisels to methodically dig away at the mud cave walls. In one of the areas, they had to construct a wooden platform, so the team could dig safely, and not be at risk of the mud walls collapsing around them.

The crevice was extremely narrow. Fortini said, "I'm going to say only 10 inches at the top, and it bells out to 18 inches further down, but that's not very much room." Due to the limited space above the body, the teams decided to work from below the as well, digging up from the lower level of the cave. Imagine an inverted "Y," with the body where all points converge. Two crews were digging from below and one crew up on top. Fortini said eventually all three digs made contact with the body.

Crews then lowered the body to the base level of the cave, wrapped it in a bag, then made the challenging trek through about 100 yards of narrow passages and hairpin turns, to get to the opening of the cave. They finally completed their mission just before 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Fortini said, "Being able to bring closure to the family is something that makes all of us feel good."

The two search and rescue teams involved are comprised of volunteers and help anywhere in the state where they are called and are affiliated with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office. 

This is an update. The previous story is below.

The body of hiker Guillermo Pino Jr. was removed from a narrow crevice inside a mud cave in the Anza-Borrego desert Tuesday night.

The delicate operation was complete around 8:30p.m., according to the San Diego Sheriff'sDept.

A specialized mine rescue team from the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department were working underneath a chamber of a 50 to 60‐foot shaft where 24-year-old Guillermo Pino's body was found over the weekend.

The mine rescuers had to do some preliminary work before tonight's operation to shore up the walls of the crevice to prevent collapses, according to the San Diego Sheriff's spokesperson Jan Caldwell. They also worked to delicately put a harness on Pino's body, and place it in a container in order to pull it out of the crevice safely.

Pino was exploring mud caves in the Anzo-Borrego Desert State Park in eastern San Diego County when he vanished on Easter Sunday. He had no shoes, water or cell phone.

Hundreds of volunteers searched for days without finding him. However, Pino's family kept searching until his brother-in-law discovered his body inside a narrow crevice last weekend. The area is pitted with hundreds of caves. 

The San Diego Sheriff's Department, cave experts from San Bernardino Sheriff's Department, Red Cross and State Parks were all working to recover the body in a timely and respectful manner, according to Sheriff's spokeswoman Jan Caldwell.

Now that the body is free from mud cave, the Medical Examiner's Office will have to make a positive, official identification and determine the cause of death.


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