Michael and Makana Von Gortler - Strange Deaths on U.S. Mountains

Dr Michael and Makana von Gortler Missouri Mountain disappearance

Dr Michael and Makana von Gortler, Disappeared June 21, 2011, Bodies found June 27, 2011, Missouri mountain, Colorado.

Dr Michael von Gortler, 53, was a 53-year old ER physician, and his daughter, Makana von Gortler were both keen hikers in the wilderness.  Makana, Hawaiian for "gift," was a 20-year old student at the University of Colorado and had recently graduated from Boulder High with honours. She was studying ecology and evolutionary biology and hoped to be a Veterinary Surgeon.

The last that was heard from the two of them was early on June 22, 2011. At 6.15 pm on June 21st, Makana texted her boyfriend, Paul Kasemir, to tell him she was going hiking up the Missouri mountain with her father and that they were due to return on June 23. Her text message said, "I just got back to Buena Vista with my dad. I left my phone here, its on roaming so i cant talk. We had a great time and were gonna try a 14 er tmrw. Ill be able to see you in a few days, Ive missed you too."The last texts from Makana came very early on June 22 at 12:23 am, she texted, "Were hiking Mt Missouri tmrw, staying the night here and then driving back the 23rd. I will help my dad pack the next day, so I can see you the 25th and we can celebrate whatever month were in now."The last message came a minute later: "Love you so much."

Paul Kasemir and makana von gortler

They never showed up on June 25th as promised, and their bodies were eventually found several days later about one mile from the summit of the mountain, about 500 feet above the main trail. 

Missouri Mountain is a 14,074-foot (4,290 m) high mountain summit in the Collegiate Peaks of the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains of the USA. It is northwest by west of the Town of Buena Vista in Chaffee County, Colorado and it is separated from its eastern neighbour Mount Belford by the Elkhead Pass.

Dr von Gortler often went hiking in the mountains and was known to go off the beaten track but always carried emergency equipment with him. His daughter accompanied him on this trips since she was a little girl. Both were experienced climbers and Michael had even written articles about climbing techniques and safety. On June 22nd, 2011, the weather was perfect, there was no rain or wind on the mountain. For the von Gortler's certainly not a day to be concerned about to be leaving on a trek.

Makana's mother, Melani Holton, called the Chaffee County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday, June 26th to report them missing after being concerned that she had not heard from her daughter. She and Mike had been separated for some years. This was not the first time they had got lost. Once, on a similar climb with another father and daughter, the Von Gortlers had decided to go off-trail. The friends remained on-trail and grew worried when Mike and Makana were nowhere to be found at the bottom. They contacted mountain rangers, who fortunately found Michael and Makana six hours later.

The next day June 27th, rescuers launched a large, five-day air and ground search in the area after finding the pair's vehicle parked at the mountain's trailhead. 24 skilled searchers, canine searchers, technical climbers and three helicopters were eventually deployed.

Mount Missouri Colorado

Authorities heard from a fellow hiker who bumped into the Von Gortlers around 11:30 a.m. on June 22, and is believed to be the last person to see them alive. Mike and Makana were well below the timberline when they were last seen they may have begun their hike much later than advised as it's recommended that hikers begin their climb around sunrise.

A few family members experienced in climbing went to the mountain on Wednesday to search, including Makana's cousin and close friend, Nicole Box. Nicole said, "If you stay on the logical trail, you're good, but once you go illogical, it can be really dangerous.". She describes the terrain as rocky, steep and covered with dense forest.

Finally, a helicopter pilot noticed the bodies whilst dropping off a ground search and rescue team. Rescue crews deployed a helicopter to recover the bodies from a steep, grassy area. 

Coroner Randy Amettis conducted autopsies and reported that."Dr Michael von Gortler and his daughter, Makana, both died from blunt-force trauma injuries to the head and neck. There was no indication of injuries from lightning.". Amettis said the conditions of the bodies and other factors indicated that the von Gortlers died on June 22, the day they began the hike."No crime is believed to have been committed," Amettis said. He declared the deaths an accident. While Amettis could not say if the hikers had fallen, he said their injuries are not inconsistent with a fall.

What caused the blunt force trauma to the head and neck and deaths for these two experienced hikers? Relatives believe the two were likely blown off a cliff but there were no reports of high winds on June 22nd. Why did the coroner say that he could not tell if the von Gortlers had fallen, surely these sort of injuries would have been obvious if you fall off a steep cliff? During this time of year, the snow from the top of the mountain is melting, which causes rapid-like rivers down the mountainside. People can lose their footing and be pulled into these when trying to get water. These deaths are most likely caused by the conditions on Missouri Mountain but are still shrouded in a little mystery.

Sources

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2010811/Bodies-missing-doctor-daughter-wilderness.html

https://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/coroner-father-daughter-died-from-head-injuries

http://abcnews.go.com/US/doctor-daughter-missing-climbing-colorado-mountains/story?id=13968668

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/michael-von-gortler-and-h_n_890148

http://www.dailycamera.com/news/ci_18403052

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/43589415/ns/us_news-life/t/sheriff-says-no-sign-missing-colorado-hikers/