April 5, 2013

Search crews recount dramatic Calif. hiker rescue

Gillian Flaccus / The Associated Press

RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA, Calif. — At first, the rescuers couldn't believe their ears: After four days of grueling searching, they suddenly heard a faint female voice calling for help.

click image to enlarge

This photo provided by Los Angeles County Search and Rescue Reserve Deputy Doug Cramoline shows the helicopter rescue of Kyndall Jack, 18, by an L.A. County deputy after a rescue team found Jack clinging to an almost vertical canyon wall.

AP

click image to enlarge

This photo provided by Los Angeles County Search and Rescue Reserve Deputy Doug Cramoline shows the helicopter rescue of Kyndall Jack, 18, by an L.A. County deputy after being missing for five days in rugged country near Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

AP

Over the next 90 agonizing minutes, the cries for help — and first faint, and then louder — led the search and rescue crew across a canyon, into a drainage and up several waterfalls to a near-vertical slope where lost hiker Kyndall Jack was clinging to rocky outcropping no bigger than a yoga mat.

The 18-year-old, who had been missing in Southern California's Cleveland National Forest since Sunday, had no shoes, was having trouble breathing and was severely disoriented from dehydration when she was found Thursday. The first thing she asked was what year it was, said Los Angeles County Reserve Deputy Fred Wenzel, who reached her first. Then, she asked for her mother.

"She was filthy from head to toe, her lips were black with dirt, her eyes were barely open and she had on no shoes," said sheriff's Deputy Jim Moss, a paramedic who was dropped to her by helicopter and airlifted her to safety in a harness. "She was just kind of clinging to the ledge on the cliff side, going in and out of consciousness."

Her rescuers were afraid to give her water, despite her extreme dehydration, because she had so much dirt in her mouth she could choke, Wenzel said.

"She was limp and almost lifeless. I was just holding her as the crew chief brought us up and just holding onto her, bringing her in," Moss said of the airlift.

"She wouldn't have made it much longer. She's really lucky."

Jack's dramatic rescue brings a happy end to a saga that gripped Southern California since Easter, when Jack and her friend, 19-year-old Nicolas Cendoya, called 911 to report that they were lost and out of water after wandering off the trail during what they expected would be an easy day hike on the Holy Jim Trail.

The popular trail is in the Cleveland National Forest, where the dangers of 720 miles of rugged mountain wilderness run smack up against the planned communities and shopping malls of suburban southeast Orange County. Jack and Cendoya, who was rescued late Wednesday after being spotted by hikers, parked their car off a dirt road just a few miles from an upscale neighborhood where on Thursday children bounced on trampolines and customers sipped lattes at a Starbucks in an outdoor strip mall.

The two got separated sometime Sunday night and were both found less than a mile from their car and "very, very close" to one another, although they did not know it, said Lt. Jason Park, an Orange County sheriff's spokesman.

"I have no doubt that they came out here with the best of intentions ... but this is a complicated environment and before you know it, you're lost," he said, adding that having civilization so close can lull some hikers into a false sense of security. "It's just as dangerous today out here as it was on Sunday afternoon."

Despite their joy at finding both hikers alive, rescuers anxiously awaited word on the condition of a reserve deputy who suffered a head injury when he fell 60 feet down the canyon. He was also flown to a hospital where he was in serious condition but expected to survive, said Park.

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