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Hikers Find Death, Terror at Summit of Mt. Whitney

July 16, 1990|JANET RAE-DUPREE and EDWARD J. BOYER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Hikers who knew how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation immediately began assisting MacLeod and Nordbrock. The group worked on Nordbrock for more than five hours before rescuers arrived by helicopter to take him to the hospital where he died.

"The doctor told us they thought the lightning probably had the worst effect on Matt because he was wearing metal-rimmed glasses," the dead man's mother, Evelyn Nordbrock, a tax preparer in Tucson, Ariz., said Sunday.

More than a decade ago, Nordbrock and his younger brother and two other boys were in a rowboat on a lake in Arizona's White Mountains when lightning struck during a sudden storm, she said.

"Matt was temporarily stunned, but one of the other boys was pretty badly hurt. . . . That boy was wearing metal-rimmed glasses, too."

Nordbrock, a credit analyst with Jorgensen Steel in Los Angeles, often mentioned the incident to friends, his mother said.

Milligan and Tervo decided immediately after the lightning strike to head down the trail for help.

"My legs were numb and were hurting, so I couldn't keep up," Tervo said Sunday.

Milligan raced on, arriving at Whitney Portal at 6:30 p.m., about three hours after the accident.

Meanwhile, Tervo said he found some Girl Scouts part way down the mountain, who used a radio they were carrying to call for help. Their Mayday, picked up by a passing jetliner, was relayed to Inyo County sheriff's deputies by Los Angeles air traffic control officials at about 6:15 p.m., Sheriff's Lt. Jack Goodrich said.

After the first helicopter rescue Saturday night, the remaining eight hikers huddled in the hut, awaiting help as temperatures dipped below freezing and a light snow dusted the summit.

Meanwhile, about a half-mile below them, two other day hikers, brothers-in-law Nabours and Michael Wasson, 33, of Los Angeles, huddled beneath a stone outcropping, trying to stay dry when lightning struck.

Steve Walker, a member of the China Lake Mountain Rescue Group, said the men told him their experience as they waited for a rescue helicopter Sunday morning.

They told Walker the air around them suddenly became charged as two lightning bolts in rapid succession zipped through the rock, stunning them.

The jolts sent Nabours into convulsions, Walker said. Wasson, who was slightly burned and numbed by the charge, performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for several minutes to revive his brother-in-law.

Dressed only in T-shirts and shorts in the 50-degree temperatures, the two men rested only briefly before deciding to attempt to find help farther down the mountain, Walker said. They hiked three miles before coming across two women backpackers at a resting point called Trail Camp.

The women gave the men hot drinks, food and warm clothes. Walker and a team of nine rescuers reached the camp shortly before midnight. Nabours was flown off the mountain at about 8:30 a.m. Sunday, and was hospitalized in good condition.

Wasson insisted on hiking back down. "He said, 'We climbed up this mountain and I want to climb down it,' " Walker said.

Considering the intensity of the storm and the number of weekend hikers on the peak, authorities said it was fortunate that there was only one fatality.

The hikers agreed.

"We flogged on (Nordbrock) for five hours, trying to make him live," said Glen MacLeod. "That tore us apart. But we looked around and realized that it could have been all 13 of us that didn't make it. We were very lucky."

Others, like Wueherer, felt nagging regret.

"It all makes sense in retrospect," he said. "We were asking for trouble. We were on the highest mountain, in a metal-roofed cabin, at the peak, in the middle of a rainstorm.

"What did we think was going to happen? I know now. We probably shouldn't have pushed for the top."

Rae-Dupree reported from Lone Pine. Boyer reported from Los Angeles. Times staff writers Bob Schwartz in Los Angeles and George Frank in Orange County contributed to this story.

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