Sheffield hiker, 67, dies in fall on Monument Mountain

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GREAT BARRINGTON — A local woman who appears to have fallen while hiking Monument Mountain was found dead on the mountain by emergency crews on Friday night.

Joan Sussman, 67, of Ashley Falls in Sheffield, was discovered about 30 feet from the Squaw Peak trail, according to Great Barrington authorities. Sussman was pronounced dead at the scene, according to Great Barrington Fire Chief Charles Burger.

Burger added that while the accident remains under investigation, Sussman appeared to have suffered "traumatic injuries," probably related to a fall. Family members said she was a frequent climber and regularly hiked Monument Mountain, according a news release issued Saturday by town authorities.

At about 3:15 p.m., according to Burger, a 911 call came in from the woman. She reported that she had suffered a bad fall while hiking the Squaw Peak Trail and had injured her ankle.

But that was the last communication from the woman, although emergency responders attempted to contact her through her phone a number of times, said Burger.

Responders reached the top of Squaw Peak, one of two peaks on Monument Mountain, about 45 minutes later, said Burger, but could find no one. As per protocol, responders then began searching all the trails around Squaw Peak.

All the while, said Burger, responders were plotting the GPS coordinates from the cell phone call. But, he said, the "pings" from the cell phone were only bouncing off one cell tower. That, he said, presented rescuers with an extremely wide search field.

As the afternoon wore on, said Burger, several storm cells whipped through the area, bringing heavy rains and thunderstorms that hindered the search.

"That, along with the pending darkness, made the search very treacherous," he said. Visibility and the footing on the trails became very hazardous during and after the rain, said Burger.

Burger said responders got in touch with the woman's immediate family and accessed her "Find my iPhone" app. That effort finally generated the exact location of the victim, he said

Responders spent about four hours recovering the body and then getting it down to the base camp at the foot of Monument Mountain, said Burger. Several rescuers had to rappel to the area where the woman had fallen and work to get to secure her body and move it from the remote location to an area where ATVs have access.

This is the second time in a little over a week that emergency crews had to respond to an injured hiker on Monument Mountain. On Aug. 5, a 22-year-old Egremont woman was rescued by EMTs after injuring her ankle hiking the devil's Pulpit area of the mountain.

The Trustees of Reservations, which manages the mountain, advised on its website that many of the trails are steep and asked hikers to be aware of the weather conditions when hiking.

In addition to the Great Barrington Fire Department, members of the Sheffield and Egremont fire departments, the Great Barrington Police Department, the Western Massachusetts technical rescue team and state police also assisted in the rescue, said Burger.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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