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Missing New Mexico firefighter apparently died in ATV crash, officials say

Token Adams, in an undated photo released by the U.S. Forest Service. U.S. Forest Service via AP

A U.S. Forest Service firefighter who vanished in New Mexico last week while scouting a wildfire was found dead Friday atop a mesa, where he had apparently crashed his ATV, according to officials.

Token Adams, 41, who rode out on an ATV Aug. 30 to survey the perimeter of a wildfire, was discovered in a remote area not far from a road at roughly 11:45 a.m. Friday, authorities said at an afternoon news conference.

More than 250 searchers — volunteers, firefighters, recovery teams, and the Civil Air Patrol — had spent the past week scouring some 50 square miles of mesa tops and steep canyons east of Jemez Springs.

They braved rugged terrain and foul weather, which frequently hampered search efforts.

Adams appeared to have been killed in an ATV crash, officials said. It was unclear if he died immediately or how long he had been dead, said State Police spokesman Manny Gutierrez, according to the Associated Press.

Authorities said Adams was found by searchers using grids to cover the far-flung area.

Adams, 41, was an engine captain with the Jemez Ranger District near Santa Fe, according to the Albuquerque Journal newspaper. He was sent out to look for smoke after a lightning strike, incident information officer John Helmich told the paper. The fire eventually grew to 25 acres before being contained later that day.

Adams, who had served a year a half with the ranger district and some 10 years with the Forest Service, failed to return to a pre-arranged meeting point with two other firefighters who were also riding ATVs and did not respond to calls to his radio, Helmich said.

Although the terrain was tough, authorities initially held out hope that Adams would be found alive because he was a veteran outdoorsman who grew up on the edge of the Sierra National Forest in California. He was known to have extensive survival skills.

Adams is survived by his pregnant wife, Heidi and a young son, Tristan, according to the AP. Heidi is expecting their second child, according to information provided by the Carson National Forest.

Gov. Susana Martinez sent her condolences to the firefighter's family.

"Token is an American hero, and he died in the way he lived: serving and protecting us," she said, according to the AP, adding that she also wanted to express gratitude to "every single man and woman who refused to quit looking until they found Token."

Matthew DeLuca of NBC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.