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The fire departments of Sandoval and Los Alamos County were involved in recovering two bodies in two separate incidents from the Sandoval County wilderness area Saturday.
The first incident involved a man who was reported missing by his family Friday after he did not return from a morning hike in the Jemez Mountains, according to New Mexico State Police spokesman Robert McDonald.
Sandoval County Sheriff deputies found the hiker’s vehicle Friday night.
The case was transferred to state police because it turned into a search and rescue effort.
Search and rescue crews found the man’s body at the bottom of an approximate 100-foot cliff near F.R. 10 and F.R. 269.
The hiker was identified as Thomas Ilg, 54, of Los Alamos. He was a Los Alamos National Laboratory employee, according to the facility’s website. Ilg reportedly had worked at the lab since 1996.
Ilg’s neighbors were saddened and shocked to hear the news, but also said they did not know him well.
“I knew his wife Wendy, but I did not know him very well,” said one neighbor. “That is horrible; I do know they’ve lived in this neighborhood a long time. How awful,” the neighbor said.
McDonald said the family told officials Ilg was an experienced hiker.
According to family friend Connie Goettee, Ilg and his wife hiked almost every weekend and he never went hiking without his camera equipment
“Tom especially enjoyed the opportunity to photograph the New Mexico landscapes, wildlife and Indian ruins,” Goettee said. “He was happy with his life, his work and his opportunities to photograph the beauty that surrounded them.”
Ilg was an engineer at the lab and was very good at his job, according to Goettee. He also enjoyed scuba diving, snorkeling, hockey and building model airplanes. “Sunday afternoons would find him rooting for the New York Giants,” Goettee said
The second death occurred when a man was clearing trees on nearby Cochiti Mesa, said Los Alamos Fire Department Deputy Chief Justin Grider. David Sturm, 55, was contracted to clear trees off the mesa, according to his business partner Jaret McDonald. One of the trees fell hitting Sturm and knocking him over a cliff with a 200-foot drop.
“He was an outstanding human being,” McDonald said. “He was also a great friend, father and grandfather who was well respected by the community. He was one of those guys who would give you the shirt off his back.”
Grider said that accident happened Saturday afternoon and his department was called by the Sandoval Fire Department, since that department was busy dealing with the recovery of Ilg’s body.
Due to the brittleness of the cliff face that was burned in the 2011 fire and the general inaccessibility of the area, Grider said it was not easy recovering the man’s body.
“We hiked down to the bottom of the canyon and retrieved the body, and then I called the National Guard to get a Blackhawk helicopter in to retrieve the body,” Grider said.
“The cliff face was just too shaky to have crew rappel down to him. When a fire comes through with that intensity and heat, it even cracks the rock face a lot,” Grider said.
Even though the LAFD rescue team used chainsaws to clear a landing zone, the helicopter still could not land because the canyon was too narrow, Grider said.
“So they did a long line rappel, brought the body up along with two of my firefighters and the equipment,” Grider said.
The man is from Sierra Los Pino near Jemez Springs and was a LANS contractor.
The lab said in a statement, “On behalf of the director and the laboratory as a whole, our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and co-workers of Thomas Ilg and David Sturm.