By T.S. Last
The Albuquerque Journal
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Search and rescue personnel recovered the bodies of two men who fell to their deaths during separate incidents in the Jemez Mountains over the weekend.
While crews were in the process of recovering the body of 54-year-old hiker Thomas Ilg, of Los Alamos, on Saturday, a call came in reporting another death just a few miles away.
Sandoval County Sheriff's Office identified the second man as 55-year-old David Sturm of nearby Sierra de los Pinos, who was helping neighbors clear trees from an area on Cochiti Mesa ravaged by last year's Las Conchas Fire.
"Since the time of the fire, a group of them get together to clear the property of trees to get ready to rebuild. It's a close-knit community, and they look out after one another," said Justin Grider, deputy fire chief for Los Alamos County, who served as incident commander.
Grider said several people witnessed the accident.
"He was clearing a lot of a dozen or so trees," Grider said of Sturm. "He had cut one tree, and when the tree fell, he dropped it up-slope and it kicked back and took him off the ledge."
Grider said Strum's body was eventually recovered about 200 feet below the ledge. It took a Black Hawk helicopter provided by the New Mexico National Guard to retrieve the body.
"They don't typically do it for body recovery, but it was imperative to have my rescuers safe," Grider said of the helicopter. "That part of the Jemez Mountains is very steep and very rugged terrain."
Grider said the Los Alamos County Fire Department received a call for mutual aid about 1:30 p.m. from the La Cueva and Sandoval County fire departments, which were already occupied retrieving Ilg's body about six miles away.
Grider said he and his team arrived at the scene about 2 p.m. and were taken to the area where Sturm had fallen.
"It's too risky to rappel in that area. There are way too many fractured rock and dead trees that would have put our rescuers in danger," Grider said.
So the National Guard was called on to help. In the meantime, six members of the rescue team were sent to hike down the mountain with chain saws to clear an area for the helicopter to land. Grider said it took them about two hours to reach the body.
The terrain prevented a landing, Grider said, so the body was retrieved through a long line rappel while the helicopter hovered over the site. Sturm's body and two Los Alamos firefighters were hauled up, and the helicopter flew to a location where a medical investigator was waiting for the body. The other four rescuers hiked out about 4:30 p.m.
Grider said it was a difficult mission for all involved.
"It was a very tragic day for the community," he said. "My understanding is the victim had a lot of ties to Los Alamos, as well as the Jemez community."
Hours earlier, New Mexico State Police recovered the body of Ilg, who failed to return after setting out on a day hike on Friday.
Ilg, a staff member at Los Alamos National Laboratory since 1996, apparently was killed after falling from a 100-foot cliff near Forest Roads 10 and 269.
Copyright 2012 Albuquerque Journal