Earlier this week, Blue Ridge Outdoors reported an unidentified body found near the Appalachian Trail at Black Rock in South Mountain State Park, Boonsboro Maryland. The body has since been identified as Michael Joseph Mack, 58, of Hanover, Md. Two hikers discovered Mack’s body on Monday, July 10, and called 911 around 3:45pm. We spoke with Candy Thomson, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police, and Sergeant D. Brandon Garvey, the incident commander on the scene, both of whom graciously provided us with more recent details.
The subject was found off-trail, in an extremely rugged, boulder-strewn area. Authorities’ original plan was to lift the subject out via helicopter, but quickly discovered that helicopter access to the area would be impossible. Instead, the local fire department from Washington County cut a trail to approach the site from below. After a 35-minute ATV ride, search and rescue personnel then had to pick their way across the boulder field to where the body had been prepared for extraction. Sargent Garvey, the incident commander, said that his Tactical Response Team (TRT) rigged a tension line across the steep terrain and carried the body out in a stokes basket, first 350 feet down the slope, then an additional 400 yards back to the ATV’s. The whole operation took over six hours with a team of about seven TRT members and at least twelve local officers. Even with minimal ropes training, Sergeant Garvey – who specializes in maritime rescues in the Port of Baltimore and the Chesapeake – said that the extraction, though very strenuous, actually didn’t take as long as he expected. “We’re a very fit group,” he said, “and there were no injuries on the way out.”
Captain Brian Albert, regional commander for Western Maryland, said that the Tactical Response Team was immensely helpful in the operation, though they are normally deployed for search and rescue or woodland tactical missions for missing persons, children, or suspected despondent persons on state property. He also said that the TRT used their skills and empathy to bring closure to the subject’s family.
Though the body was originally unidentified due to the extent of natural decomposition, a missing person’s report was filed shortly after the extraction, which turned out to be the subject, Michael Joseph Mack. The report was filed with Anne Arundel County by Mack’s son, who spoke to him last on July 1. Mack’s identity was officially confirmed when the Baltimore Medical Examiner found his driver’s license. The physical autopsy has confirmed that Mack’s death was accidental, due to multiple injuries. There is no evidence to suggest suicide or foul play.
Shortly after the extraction, Mack’s vehicle was found on US-40 at an Appalachian trailhead, typically used by day hikers. Mack was carrying a day pack and a chalk bag for climbing or bouldering. He would have hiked about four miles from his car before his accident. Candy Thomson said that the subject was an avid climber and had outdoors experience, but was not dressed or equipped to be on the trail for more than an afternoon, and was definitely not a thru-hiker. She also says that the incident is still under investigation, and authorities are researching local weather conditions, particularly on the 4th of July, when Mack was off work.