RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA, Calif. (AP) — Helicopter crews took advantage of clear skies Wednesday in the hunt for two hikers lost for days in Southern California’s Cleveland National Forest, as searchers focused on an area where a glimmer of light was spotted the night before.
So far, nothing has been found in the area where mountain bikers glimpsed what they believed to be a light in heavy brush Tuesday night off of a trail, Orange County Sheriff’s Lt. Jason Park.
“They were unable to describe it exactly. They didn’t think it was a fire,” Park said.
A Los Angeles County sheriff’s helicopter joined two smaller choppers from Orange and Riverside counties in the search that fanned out in a 2-mile radius from where a car belonging to one of the hikers was parked. The larger helicopter is capable of landing crews in remote locations, Park said.
Nineteen-year-old Nicholas Cendoya and 18-year-old Kyndall Jack were last heard from Sunday night when they called for help on a cellphone. The phone’s battery later died.
The two are believed to have gone off trail near Holy Jim Trail, a tree-lined dirt path along a creek that leads to a waterfall and is popular with day hikers.
It was unclear whether the lost hikers carried water.
Kyndall’s father, Russ Jack, said he worried that after three days the pair might be dehydrated. But he still has hope.
“So at this point everybody’s still upbeat, optimistic about finding the kids in good shape and alive,” he told TV reporters.
About 50 searchers, some on horseback and aided by dogs, moved back and forth through chest-high brush across mountain ridges.
The U.S. Forest Service gave permission to cut brush on a mountain peak to land a helicopter, which allowed LA County sheriff’s personnel and two dogs to be taken to a canyon northwest of the pair’s car, Orange County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Erin Guidice told the Los Angeles Times.
That area was chosen because a nearby cellphone tower was pinged when Jack and Cendoya placed the call, she said.
Temperatures in the area have been mild.
Jack’s car was left in a parking area. Her mother drew a message on the dusty windshield that read: “Kyndall – we r looking wont stop love you mom” and signed it with a heart. Jack’s family towed away the car Tuesday night, KABC-TV reported.
The area is in a section of the national forest in the Santa Ana Mountains, which lie along the border of Orange and Riverside counties southeast of Los Angeles. The trail ranges in elevation from about 2,000 feet to about 4,000 feet.