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May 25, 2022

Search and Rescue Volunteer Dies at Crash Site

Member of Sheriff’s Department team collapses and dies while
photographing wreckage of the plane
Gilroy – A volunteer member of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team died Friday night on a Coyote Lake hillside while photographing the plane wreckage that claimed the lives of four others two days earlier.

Officials had not released the identity of the rescuer by press time Friday night.

At about 4:20pm, a call came into the Sheriff’s office from another search and rescue team member saying they had a man down. The victim apparently suffered shortness of breath while walking up a hillside and collapsed, police said.

“There’s no foul play. Nothing suspicious. It just sounds like a case of a heart attack,” said South County Patrol Lt. Dale Unger. “It’s tough when it’s one of your own … We’re all in shock. I worked with the guy. I know him pretty well. He was a good guy and was extremely dedicated to the search and rescue unit.”

A coroner will be used to determine the exact cause of death.

A slew of emergency response personnel responded, including South Santa Clara Fire/CDF, American Medical Response and the Sheriff’s Office. About 30 minutes later the victim died on the foggy hillside, officials said.

A combination of rough terrain and poor visibility prevented the Sheriff’s officers from reaching the members of their search and rescue unit. Firefighters used four wheel drive vehicles to get up to the wreckage site where the victim collapsed.

There is no trail leading to the wreckage site, which is located halfway up the hillside across from the Roop Road entranceway into the park.

Wednesday night, a newly-licensed pilot, his wife, a boy the couple was adopting and their niece were killed when the Cessna 172 single-engine airplane crashed into the same hillside.

The remains of Matthew Armstrong, 41, his wife Sara, 37, his niece Kacie Kusalich, 11, and Cody, the 4-year-old son he was in the process of adopting, were discovered Thursday morning at 8:30am. Sara Armstrong grew up in Morgan Hill.

Search and rescue workers were doing follow-up investigation of the scene and photographing the wreckage.

A number of Sheriff’s officers waited at the gates of the park until their friend and colleague had been recovered. One commented that the night was the same as when the plane went down.

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