Body recovered on Mt. Toby

  • Sunderland firefighters begin to drive up the trail on Mount Toby to recover a body that was found on Sunday afternoon. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau—

  • Sunderland Fire Department, as well as mutual aid and Massachusetts State Police responded to the scene of a body found on Mount Toby by two hikers on Sunday. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • Due to narrow trails, ATVs and snowmobiles were used to get to a site near caves on Mount Toby in Sunderland where a body was found by hikers on Sunday. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau—

  • Mount Toby Acres was used as a base for first responders after a body was found on the mountain Sunday afternoon. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau—

  • Sunderland Fire Chief Steven Benjamin touches base with firefighters about to go on Mount Toby where a body was found early Sunday afternoon. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau—

  • First responders set off up a trail on Mount Toby in Sunderland to aid in the recovery of a body found by hikers on the mountain Sunday. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

Published: 3/3/2019 11:06:58 PM

SUNDERLAND — A body was found by two hikers on Mount Toby around 12:45 p.m. Sunday, triggering an hourslong recovery involving multiple agencies and two drones.

The body was found in a cave structure on the west side of Mount Toby. Both trail entrances were narrow, requiring first responders to use ATVs, snowmobiles and utility vehicles to get them and their equipment to the site.

Sunderland Fire Chief Steven Benjamin said the operation went smoothly despite facing a pending snowstorm and a challenging location on the mountain. It lasted until dusk.

“The trail to the location was snow-covered and icy and the location itself was challenging terrain,” Benjamin said. “It required some good work to do the job well. The area is a well-traveled feature on the trail system, but not necessarily well-known.”

The Mount Toby Acres apartments served as a command center for the responding departments, which included Sunderland and Montague police departments, Sunderland, Turners Falls, Montague Center and Greenfield fire departments, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation, as well as the state police.

With Benjamin below and Sunderland Fire Lt. Scott Smith running the scene on the mountain, an investigation and documentation of the scene were completed over the course of the afternoon, and then the body was recovered from the site.

The state police Crime Prevention and Control Unit, which works for the Northwestern district attorney’s office; the Western Mass. Technical Rescue Team and local first responders were able to recover the body, while drones from Greenfield were used to ensure the safety of rescuers.

Greenfield Fire Chief Robert Strahan said the drones were used to provide a better view of what was happening on the mountain.

“We used the drones to help provide easier access to the site,” Strahan said. “If someone got hurt, we would be able to know where they were, and generally get an overview of the scene. We want to guarantee everyone’s safety.”

Two drones, one larger than the other, were used to monitor the scene while the recovery was underway.

First responders were not only walking on steep, snow-covered terrain, they were also trying to remove the body that was in a wedge-like area near a cliff face.

“The body was stuck and first responders had to climb down, extricate the body respectfully and bring it back down,” said Sunderland Capt. Michael Zeoli.

The body was recovered from the mountain at 5 p.m. State police are investigating the case as an unattended death. Sunday night there was no information about the victim’s identity or how the person came to be on the mountain, which is mostly covered by state forest managed by the University of Massachusetts, but is crisscrossed by many hiking trails.

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