Camp Pendleton Marine missing in California mountains likely died, Marine Corps says

First Lt. Matthew Kraft, the missing Camp Pendleton Marine who failed to return from a ski trip through California’s rugged Sierra Nevada more than a month ago, has likely died of exposure from severe winter weather, the Marine Corps said Thursday.

Kraft, a member of the 1st Marine Division, began his backcountry trek on the Sierra High Route near Independence, Calif., on Feb. 23. He was scheduled to end his trip 130 miles north near Bridgeport by March 4 or 5, but never showed up.

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“Given the timeline of events, severe weather, and increased avalanche activity in the search area, on-scene search and rescue experts have determined that Kraft was most likely overcome by severe weather and exposure,” Capt. Paul Gainey, spokesman for the 1st Marine Division, told the Orange County Register.

First Lt. Matthew Kraft, inset in an undated photo, began his trek at the Kearsarge Pass trailhead on Feb. 23. Officials released a photo showing an aerial view of the trail area being searched.

First Lt. Matthew Kraft, inset in an undated photo, began his trek at the Kearsarge Pass trailhead on Feb. 23. Officials released a photo showing an aerial view of the trail area being searched. (Inyo County Sheriff's Office/ U.S. Marine Corps via AP)

The Mono County Sheriff's Office initiated a search on March 4, when Kraft’s father didn’t hear from his son. The search then expanded the following day to a joint operation with crews from local, state and federal agencies.

The 24-year-old had survival training, giving hope for the infantry officer’s survival as agencies searched a massive 400-square-mile area. But the rescue effort was continually hampered by severe winter weather that made the air and ground searches unsafe.

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Kraft’s Jeep Wrangler rental was found in a parking area near Independence on March 8.

“All the Marines in 1st Lt. Matthew Kraft’s chain of command grieve with his family,” Gainey told the Register. “We are heartbroken for the family and friends of 1st Lt. Kraft, and the command will do everything they can to help the family and friends of 1st Lt. Kraft.”