Longtime Sitka Search and Rescue volunteer found dead on Mount Verstovia

a man
Mike Motti, a 39-year veteran of Sitka Search and Rescue, passed as he lived: On a mountaintop overlooking Sitka. (Photo by Don Kluting/KCAW)

Searchers recovered the body of a 76-year old overdue hiker from Sitka’s Mount Verstovia on Friday evening.

Mike Motti was a veteran of Sitka’s Mountain Rescue team. He regularly climbed above treeline to a knoll overlooking Sitka, known locally as Picnic Rock, to celebrate his birthday.

Troopers were notified around 5 p.m. that Motti was overdue from his annual trek up the mountain. A ground team was deployed along with a helicopter from Air Station Sitka.

Searcher’s found Motti’s body about two hours later by the trail, just below Picnic Rock. He had apparently died of natural causes.

Mike Motti (pictured here aboard a Coast Guard helicopter) performed every function in search and rescue, from field searching to dog handling, and most recently leading the incident management team. (Photo by Don Kluting/KCAW)

Motti was a fixture in emergency medical services in the region. Over his career, he helped organize and lead an emergency medevac department for the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium before the advent of commercial medevac services. He was a wilderness medical associates instructor who taught many wilderness EMT courses for a variety of first-response agencies.

Don Kluting, who was Motti’s colleague for many years on Sitka Search and Rescue, says he had an understated approach to training. On Kluting’s very first day on the team, Motti harnessed him to ropes and sent him down a 100-foot cliff.

“My knees were shaking I’m sure as I went over the edge,” said Kluting, describing his first hour in training. “I’ve never rappelled before, I’d never been lowered over a rock face before or anything. And here I am being introduced to this gentleman that I’ve never met before. And you know, he’s in charge. And he’s tied this rope off to a tree. And they’re talking about, ‘Yeah, we’re just going to lower you over this edge and down to the bottom.’”

Kluting would eventually become captain of Sitka Search and Rescue and serve alongside Motti for 29 years.

Motti joined the organization in March of 1983 and was still an active volunteer when he died. Sitka Search and Rescue captain Matt Hunter says Motti was the team’s “most active member,” working as search dog handler, medic, and most recently, leading the incident management team.

Don Kluting doesn’t know how many lives Motti can be credited with saving, but he believes the way his life ended will resonate with the people who are dedicated to this line of work.

“How fitting is this, that he gets his last helicopter ride, and it’s a beautiful night, the moon’s out,” said Kluting, “And he died with his back against the tree looking at the most beautiful view ever.”

Memorial services for Mike Motti are pending.

Robert Woolsey is the news director at KCAW in Sitka.

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