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Body of hiker recovered on Mt. Shasta

April 1, 2010 |  1:24 pm

More than 60 people have died on Mt. Shasta since the early 1900s.

The body of a stranded hiker was found by a search-and-rescue team on Mt. Shasta Thursday morning and airlifted down by helicopter, a spokeswoman for the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Department said.

Thomas Bennett Jr., a 26-year-old chemical engineer from Oakland, was hiking the 14,179-foot mountain with a friend when they encountered high winds at the summit late Saturday and were forced to spend the night on the peak.

Mark Thomas, 26, of Berkeley, told authorities that Bennett was fine overnight but started to experience altitude sickness on breaking camp Sunday morning, said Susan Gravenkamp, a sheriff's spokeswoman.

"He eventually became unresponsive," Gravenkamp said. "Mark Thomas fashioned a snow cave and put him in and marked it with an avalanche marker."

Thomas got off the mountain late Monday afternoon. On Tuesday, three helicopters tried to search for Bennett but were forced back by high winds, Gravenkamp said.

On Thursday morning, a Chinook helicopter from the California National Guard carrying seven search team members took advantage of a brief window of calm weather to look for Bennett.

"It took them an hour and they found the snow cave marked with an avalanche marker," Gravenkamp said. "They dug into the cave and unfortunately found that Thomas Bennett had died. The body has been airlifted off the mountain at this time."

Since authorities began keeping records in the early 1900s, more than 60 people have died on Mt. Shasta, Gravenkamp said, including a man who suffered a heart attack in 2009 and a woman who died of head injuries after a fall in 2008. The volcanic peak is about 40 miles south of the Oregon-California border.

-- Maria L. La Ganga in San Francisco

Photo: Mt. Shasta in Siskiyou County. Credit: Evan Halper/Los Angeles Times

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