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Searchers find bodies likely of missing Colorado hikers

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Rescue crews recovered two bodies from a mountainside in the San Isabel National Forest on Saturday believed to be of a missing Colorado physician and his 20-year-old daughter.

The bodies were located in steep terrain at an elevation of 12,000 feet on the northeast side of Missouri Mountain within the forest, Chaffee County Sheriff W. Pete Palmer told Reuters.

Michael Von Gortler, 53, an emergency room physician from Boulder, Colorado, and his daughter Makana, a student at the University of Colorado, went missing after departing for a hike on June 21.

The pair hadn't been heard from since late last week when Makana sent a text message to a friend. Rescuers launched a massive, five-day air and ground search in the area after locating Von Gortler's vehicle parked at the mountain's trailhead.

"There's a great probability that they (the bodies) are the doctor and his daughter," Palmer said, adding that a Colorado Air National Guard helicopter crew was dispatched to retrieve the bodies.

Palmer said a helicopter pilot noticed the bodies on Saturday while dropping off a ground search and rescue team. Autopsy results were pending.

Saturday's discoveries mark the third deaths this week in the Sawatch Range of west-central Colorado, which contains a third of the state's highest peaks.

A 30-year-old woman fell to her death off Mt. Princeton on Thursday, and her body was retrieved on Saturday after recovery crews packed her out on horseback, Palmer said.

The sheriff cautioned people traveling into Colorado's back country, especially over the long holiday weekend, to be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions at high elevations.

"Lightning storms roll in quickly and rain can loosen boulders and cause rockslides," he said. "It's not an easy stroll."

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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