Highway Patrol helicopter offered assist to hiker stalked by mountain lion

Chopper used lights, sound in attempt to move cat off potential human prey
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A California Highway Patrol helicopter played a key role from the air in protecting a hiker being stalked by a mountain lion on a trail near Colfax.

And a state Fish and Wildlife spokesman confirmed Tuesday that the cougar was shot and killed Sunday by a warden after the cat made an aggressive approach toward him on the same trail.

The Highway Patrol chopper was called in by the Placer County Sheriff’s Office after the hiker’s 911 call was received late Saturday from the Stevens Trail, a rugged pathway into the North Fork American River canyon east of Colfax.

Officer Adrian Quintero said the pilot, Officer Monty Emery, and flight officer David White were dispatched from Valley Division Air Operations at the Auburn Municipal Airport to assist sheriff’s deputies.

When the victim called for help, the mountain lion was just 25 feet in front of him, Quintero said.

“He was approximately 2 miles down the (4.5-mile-long) trail and it was getting dark,” the officer said.

Using night-vision goggles, the two-person Highway Patrol helicopter crew was able to spot the hiker moments after arriving, Quintero said.

“The helicopter hovered close to the victim and, using the noise from the helicopter and the spotlight, was able to scare the mountain lion away,” Quintero said.

Using the helicopter’s loudspeaker, Emery and White directed the hiker up the trail to meet deputies, who were hiking down to meet him. The chopper stayed overhead until the hiker met up with rescuers, Quintero said.

Warden Mark Michilizzi of Fish and Wildlife said that the Stevens Trail, 17 miles northeast of Auburn, is typical mountain lion habitat but the aggressiveness of the cougar stalking a hiker was anything but. Despite efforts to make noise and appear big while shining a flashlight and blowing a whistle, the hiker could not get the mountain lion to leave. Not backing off, it circled the hiker for more than an hour, he said.

“This is a public walking trail and mountain lions are ambush-type hunters,” Michilizzi said. “There were very serious safety concerns, knowing the mountain lion had been actively stalking a man.”

A warden returned Sunday morning and was in the process of warning hikers about the mountain lion’s behavior the day before when he turned around and found himself facing the cat, Michilizzi said.

“It appeared the animal was stalking the warden,” Michilizzi said. “It was 10 feet away and positioned as if it was stalking the officer.”

The wildlife officer shot and killed the lion near where the hiker was stalked the day before, he said.

Michilizzi said details on the age, size, physical condition and sex of the mountain lion would be available after examination of the body was completed later this week. The type of firearm used to shoot the mountain lion was not immediately known, he said.

“The animal’s behavior was deemed to be a very serious public safety issue and the officer acted appropriately,” Michilizzi said.