Missing Marine's SUV found, crews continue search ahead of late-winter storm, authorities say

A search team found the rental vehicle of First Lt. Matthew Kraft, the missing Camp Pendleton Marine who failed to return from a ski trip through California’s rugged Sierra Nevada six days ago, authorities said Saturday.

Crews located the Jeep Wrangler that Kraft parked before starting his backcountry trek on the Sierra High Route near Independence, Calif., on Feb. 23, said Inyo County Sheriff's spokeswoman Carma Roper. Kraft was scheduled to end the trip Monday or Tuesday of last week near Bridgeport, about 130 miles to the north.

MARINE FROM CAMP PENDLETON AND VEHICLE MISSING AFTER SKI TRIP; SEARCH UNDERWAY

Kraft, with the 1st Marine Division, has had survival training, buoying hopes for the infantry officer’s survival as the search heads into a seventh day.

"He has the skills to survive in austere environments, and we're hoping for the best here," 1st Marine Capt. Paul Gainey said.

First Lt. Matthew Kraft, inset in an undated photo provided by the U.S. Marine Corps, 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 provided by the U.S. Marine Corps, 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 did not hear from his son. The search then expanded last Tuesday to a joint operation with crews from local, state and federal agencies.

Officials employed both ground and air teams to search a 400-square-mile area from Yosemite down to Sierra and Inyo National Forests and Kings Canyon National Park, according to a statement from the county sheriff’s office. The team also deployed a snowcat “to rope-tow search” up to the Onion Valley parking area near Independence.

Officials released a photo showing an aerial view of the heavy snow that inundated the area near the Onion Valley hiker parking lot, where rescue teams are searching.

Officials released a photo showing an aerial view of the heavy snow that inundated the area near the Onion Valley hiker parking lot, where rescue teams are searching. (Inyo County Sheriff's Office)

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But thick clouds have mired the aerial search, and winter weather has made searches by ski on the ground unsafe, Roper said. The searches were to continue as long as the weather permitted. Another storm was in the forecast Saturday afternoon through the weekend.

Recent winter storms have dumped record amounts of snow in the Sierra and led to avalanche warnings in the backcountry.

Fox News' Amy Lieu and the Associated Press contributed to this report.