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Jim Fairchild

Mountain rescue team's founder

February 13, 2009|Times Staff and Wire Reports

Jim Fairchild, 82, an experienced mountaineer who helped found the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit, died Sunday at his home in Riverside.

He died of natural causes, according to the Riverside County coroner's office.

Fairchild, who has been called "the grand old man of mountain rescue," was one of five founding members of the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit in 1961.

He participated in hundreds of rescues for more than four decades and continued to help train rescue volunteers after his retirement in 2005.

He was known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the San Jacinto Mountains. He knew the terrain so well that he could guide lost hikers out of the wilderness by phone.

"In a whiteout, if you could describe your surroundings to him, he could tell where you were -- that's how much he knew and how much he was up there," said Gwenda Yates, a Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit board member.

Fairchild was born in Riverside on July 17, 1926, and worked for the Southern California Gas Co. as a meter reader for 40 years. Yates said he refused promotions because being a meter reader gave him the flexibility to take off from work as needed to participate in rescues.

When he retired from the gas company in the late 1980s, he became an instructor in outdoors education at Pathfinder Ranch near Idyllwild. He remained an avid hiker and was climbing Mt. Rubidoux in the San Bernardino Mountains a few days before his death, his wife, JoAnne, told the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

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