June 17-22, 2014: Missing Hiker - Tar Creek, Los Padres National Forest

Ventura County Sheriff's copter extracting a field team along the Sespe Creek. Photo by Paul Raab

06/17/14, Tuesday 05:00 – 06/22/14, Sunday, 20:00 Hours

One Wednesday, June 11, two off-duty Arcadia Fire Dept. firefighters started a four day backpacking trip in the Los Padres National Forest north of Fillmore. Their plan was to start their hike at the Dough Flats trailhead and end at the Tar Creek trailhead. One of the backpackers, Michael Herdman brought his dog Duke along. On Friday evening, while sitting around their camp along the Sespe Creek, Duke run off. Herdman chased after Duke wearing only shorts and t-shirt but no shoes. Neither Herdman nor Duke returned.

The other backpacker searched for over a day for Herdman. Unfamilar with the area, the other backpacker worked his way down the Sespe until he came across a couple of fisherman. The fisherman guided the second backpacker up to the Tar Creek trailhead where he notified authorities on Sunday evening that Herdman was missing.

The Ventura County Sheriff's helicopter flew over the area Sunday night to see if they could spot Herdman. The Fillmore Mountain Search and Rescue Team started the ground search on Monday morning and checked out the high probability areas. The East Valley Team was activiated and responded on Tuesday morning, June 17. Field teams were flown into the remote backcountry to search around the subject's last camp and along the planned route. Several members spent the night in the field searching.

On Wednesday, June 18, mutual aid teams from throughout the state responded to assist. Teams and agencies that responded during the search included:

Californa Rescue Dog Association
City of Los Angeles Animal Services Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team
Civil Air Patrol
County of Los Angeles Fire Department Canine SAR
Department of Homeland Security Rapid Response Team
Fresno County Sheriff's SAR Mountaineering Team
Kern County Sheriff's SAR
Los Angeles County Sheriff's, Malibu SAR
Los Angeles County Sheriff's, Montrose SAR
Los Angeles County Sheriff's, Santa Clarita SAR
Los Angeles County Sheriff's, San Dimas SAR
Oranage County Sheriff's SAR Reserve Unit
San Luis Obispo Sheriff's SAR
Santa Barbara Sheriff's SAR
Sierra Madre SAR
Ventura County Fire Department
Ventura County Sheriff's Department
Ventura County Sheriff's K-9 SAR
Ventura County Sheriff's Dive
Ventura County Sheriff's East Valley SAR
Ventura County Sheriff's Fillmore Mountain SAR
Ventura County Sheriff's Medical Team
Ventura County Sheriff's Posse
Ventura County Sheriff's Upper Ojai SAR

In the evening of Wednesday, Herdman's dog Duke was spotted but the field teams were unable to capture the dog. The dog was spotted again on Thursday evening, but again Duke was able to elude search crews.

The search continued throughout the weekend of June 21 and 22. Field teams were flown into remote areas and also to recheck the area around the last camp.

The search effort took a toll on the field teams. A searcher from the Fillmore team as bitten by a rattlesnake on the hand. He was quickly flown to a hospital for treatment. Other injuries include sprain ankles, pulled muscles, and heat exhaustion.

During the search on Sunday, June 22, Herdman's dog Duke was found alive and exhasted. He had managed to work his way back to the Dough Flats Trailhead.

On Sunday afternoon, after seven full days of searching, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean announced that the search operation was being scaled back.

Throughout the following week small teams were inserted back into the area to continue searching. On Friday, June 27, after dropping off one of the field teams, the copter crew spotted the body of the subject at the bottom of a cliff. The location was about three-quarters of a mile from the last camp and 1200 feet above the Sespe Creek.

Update 09/16/2014 - Search Stats: Over the 7 day search there were 478 volunteers from various agencies for a total of 6692 volunteer hours. There was also 148.6 hobbs hours put on the county copters.

View photos from the search.