Body of missing hiker, 22, recovered from California mountain amid heavy snow

The body of 22-year-old woman who went missing for more than a week while hiking at a mountainous beauty spot during heavy winter weather was found and recovered Sunday night, police said.

Lefei Huang, from El Monte, went missing Feb. 4 and was only found over the weekend after a member of the public flying a drone spotted her body Friday. Search operations were hindered by the snowstorms and high winds which have affected high-altitude parts of California for much of the winter.

Law enforcement agencies used the incident to warn the public not to set out alone in bad weather — Huang went hiking just before a “atmospheric river” storm was due to hit the West Coast, which brought historic levels of rain and flooding to towns and cities, and high levels of snow in the mountains.

Huang departed alone on a hike at 2 p.m. Feb. 4 in the Mount Baldy area of the San Gabriel Mountains and was not seen again, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said. The sheriff's department received a call at 11:14 p.m. the same day and began a search at 2:30 a.m. but found nothing.

On Feb. 6, search crews continued in very heavy snowfall but were then pulled off the mountain because of the risk of an avalanche.

"The fact that our search and rescue crews are extremely well trained and they are unable to get there and search, that should give you an idea of the seriousness of the conditions," Mara Rodriguez from the sheriff's department told NBC Los Angeles.

"It doesn’t matter if you are experienced or if you are expert hiker, you can run into some issues," she added.

On Saturday, the sheriff's office received a call from the U.S. Forestry Commission to say a body had been spotted by someone using a drone in the area. But because of the conditions on the mountain, deputies were unable to reach the spot where she was thought to be and instead made camp for the night nearby.

On Sunday at 7:45 a.m., the sheriff's helicopter hoisted medics down to the upper San Antonio Creek Falls area where they found Huang's body, which was airlifted.

"We would like to thank all our personnel and volunteers that aided in the search, as well as the citizen that alerted U.S. Forestry," the sheriff's statement said, adding that it "strongly urges everyone to stay away and refrain from mountain activities during this inclement weather."

"The weather has effectively buried the mountain in snow and it is highly likely hikers will get into trouble. Resources are stretched to their limits and hikers who get lost may have to wait long periods of time before help is available," the statement said.

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