Nick Masciopinto, 07-18-05

Juneau hiker's body recovered

The Associated Press, Published: July 20th, 2005

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Rescuers on Wednesday recovered the body of a 20-year-old hiker who police say died after falling about 1,000 feet down a steep mountainside.

Nick Masciopinto of Minneapolis, Minn., died of head injuries sustained in the fall, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Searchers with Juneau Mountain reached Masciopinto's body on Thunder Mountain in the Mendenhall Valley near Juneau Wednesday afternoon. Masciopinto had been spotted face down from a helicopter the day before, too late to organize a safe rescue, officials said.

A team of climbers and fire and rescue personnel carried the body to a spot on the mountain where it could be transported by helicopter to a nearby fire station, troopers said.

Masciopinto came to Alaska for the summer, staying with relatives of his mother, Alaska State Trooper Glenn Knapp said. Masciopinto set off alone Monday for a day hike on the Thunder Mountain Trail, reportedly with a rain slicker and some food and water.

The searchers flew over the area in a helicopter and reported about 4:15 p.m. Tuesday that the missing hiker had been located at about 1,100 feet from the top of the 2,800-foot peak. A heat-measuring thermal imager picked up no heat from his body, leading rescuers to believe he was already dead.

Masciopinto was due home from his hike at about 6 p.m. Monday, said Trooper Sgt. David Tracy.

The hiker called his family at 7 p.m., saying he would be late. At 8:15 he called to say he had lost the trail and was almost a third of the way down the mountain. He could see houses in the valley and would try to make it down.

After that, he couldn't be reached by his cell phone, Tracy said. That's when troopers were called.

Minnesota man killed in Alaska loved adventure

The Associated Press, Published: July 21st, 2005

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Nick Masciopinto loved adventure.

That's why he set out from the St. Paul suburb of Vadnais Heights for the wilderness of Alaska this simmer, and why he set out Monday on a solo hike on Thunder Mountain.

The 20-year-old Eagle Scout and graduate of St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights ventured out in the afternoon and planned to return by 6 p.m. to a cousin's home in nearby Juneau. He phoned his family at 7 p.m., saying he'd be late. He called again about an hour later to report that he'd lost the trail but could see rooftops in the valley below and was heading down the mountain.

Masciopinto never made it. He plunged down a cliff to his death.

A relative and a former teacher said Masciopinto loved the outdoors and tested himself through alpine skiing, wakeboarding and other heart-pumping sports.

"He liked all those kinds of early-20s adventures, the things that make a mother's heart skip a beat," his aunt, Mary Flanagan, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Thursday.

Thunder Mountain, considered strenuous and perilous in spots, leads through meadows and forests, providing spectacular views of the Mendenhall Valley and a glacier.

Masciopinto's brother Joe, 15, told the newspaper he looked up to his older sibling, who was nicknamed "Pinto" by his classmates at St. Thomas, where he earned good grades and joined the school's honor guard.

"He was always pretty happy and outgoing," Joe Masciopinto said. "I wanted to be more like that."

Bill Culbertson, who teaches Spanish at St. Thomas, said Nick Masciopinto "had all the potential in the world to be anything he wanted."

But Masciopinto wasn't sure what his future held, Flanagan told the Pioneer Press. He took classes at Century College and the University of St. Thomas but hadn't settled on a major.

"He was really searching for what he wanted to do," she said. "I think that's part of the reason he was in Alaska."

Chris Eakins, a lifelong friend, recalled a summer outing on a lake when they were 14.

"Nick took us out on this sailboat and was trying to give us a good ride, so he let the wind get pretty good," Eakins said. The boat ended up turning over and the two boys waited, laughing, for their parents to rescue them.

"He just always wanted to show people a good time," he told the newspaper. "He made everyone around him that much more happy."


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press,