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MOUNT BALDY: Hiker falls to death trying to help friend

Published: Feb. 3, 2016 Updated: Feb. 4, 2016 7:53 a.m.

Daniel Nguyen, 23, fell from Devil's Backbone Trail
Daniel Nguyen, 23, fell from Devil's Backbone Trail near Mt. Baldy Tuesday, Feb. 2. VIA FACEBOOK
Daniel Nguyen, 23, fell from Devil's Backbone Trail
Daniel Nguyen, 23, of Westminster, fell to his death Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, on Mount Baldy when he reached out his hand to save a friend who had slipped while hiking. (COURTESY OF TINA THOMAS)
A 23-year-old Westminster man fell to his death on Mount Baldy on Tuesday, Feb. 2 when he reached out his hand to save a friend who had slipped while hiking.

Family members are mourning the loss of Daniel Nguyen, who fell about 1,500 feet down the mountainside from an advanced ridgetop trail known as Devil’s Backbone.

Tina Thomas, Nguyen’s aunt, recalled him as a selfless young man who had a lifelong curiosity that he fed by hiking and pursuing other outdoor adventures.

Nguyen was with two friends hiking along the trail. Search-and-rescue coordinator Cpl. Robert Whiteside with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department says the trail requires a certain degree of skill.

“If you’re familiar with skiing, it’s a black diamond,” Whiteside said.

Thomas said first responders told Nguyen’s father that Nguyen was reaching out to help a friend who had slipped along the trail when he lost his footing. One of his friends reported the fall to authorities about 7:40 a.m., according to a coroner’s report.

Whiteside said Nguyen slid off of the north side of the 8- to 12-foot-wide trail into a canyon near Stockton Flats. First responders determined that he had likely died, and executed a mission to retrieve his body that lasted nearly three hours in ice, snow and wind, Whiteside said.

They reached him just after dark Tuesday.

Nguyen spent much of his time outdoors and on trails, his aunt said. He liked taking photographs, playing Xbox and attending Star Wars conventions, sometimes dressed as Princess Leia.

He had just graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in kinesiology.

Thomas said he planned to join FEMA and the Peace Corps.

Even as a young Vietnamese boy, Thomas said, Nguyen had a curious mind. She said his family never would have guessed that he would become such an adventurer, but looking back it made sense.

“It was just wandering lust and it’s just in him,” she said. “His soul is probably somewhere deep down in the forest.”

Thomas said she believed Nguyen was experienced enough to hike the Devil’s Backbone trail, and said he had told his parents where he was going Tuesday.

She pointed out the irony in the fact that he loved helping people so much and spent all of his time outdoors -- and he died outdoors while helping a friend.

“How many of us can say we died doing what we loved?” Thomas asked.

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help family members pay for funeral expenses.

CORRECTION: The man killed was Daniel Nguyen. Based on information from the coroner, his first name was incorrect in a previous version of this story. Also, Mount Baldy is in the San Gabriel Mountains. Its location was incorrect in a previous version of the headline.

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