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Spelunking LA County sheriff’s deputies recover body of hiker wedged in southern cave

A forbidding entrance to the mud caves of Anza-Borrego.
A forbidding entrance to the mud caves of Anza-Borrego.

Did you know the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has an Underground Unit?

The spelunking deputies specialize in subterranean search-and-rescue operations -- and this week they helped recover a body in San Diego County, the department announced.

According to authorities, the Underground Unit was tapped to help retrieve the body of a lost hiker discovered in the mazelike mud caves of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in eastern San Diego County. The hiker had gone missing, they said, and on Saturday family members looking for him “lowered a camera into an inaccessible, nine-inch fissure inside the ‘Hidden Cave’” -- a particularly tight cavern in the extensive mud cave network -- where they saw the body.

On Monday, the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department Cave Team (they have one too) tried and failed to retrieve the body, so the L.A. County team was asked to make an attempt.

“The body was wedged at the bottom of a cone area, surrounded by silt and debris,” authorities said, “making recovery a very difficult and dangerous mission.”

Due to the cave environment, they said, the operation “was extremely arduous, with the danger of a cave-in always a threat.”

They succeeded anyway, retrieving the body at around 8 p.m. Tuesday and carrying it through the cave’s main entrance 350 feet away. The hiker was not immediately identified.

The Sheriff’s Department noted that most of those involved in the difficult 11-hour retrieval effort were volunteer reserve sheriff’s deputies who donate their time to help with search-and-rescue efforts around the region.