Two teens found after spending several nights lost in a rugged Orange County canyon were rescued just in time, authorities said as the pair recovered Friday.
Nicolas Cendoya, 19, and Kyndall Jack, 18 -- rescued on Wednesday night and midday Thursday, respectively -- had gone for a hike Sunday in the Trabuco Canyon area of Cleveland National Forest in the Santa Ana Mountains.
They called 911 that night to report they were lost and out of water, but their cell phone died and authorities were unable to find them for several days. Cendoya said he and Jack became separated on the first night in the canyon.
On Friday, both were still hospitalized – Jack at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange, and Cendoya at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. In separate rescues about 16 hours apart, they were each found severely dehydrated, disoriented and covered in scratches and bruises.
"There are so many people to thank," Cendoya said in a statement released by Mission Hospital on Friday afternoon.“The whole time I was lost, I felt the presence of Jesus and my friend, Carlos, who died last year of cancer. I felt they were both with me, inspiring me to stay alive."
An unidentified Orange County Sheriff's Department reserve deputy who was volunteering for the search was seriously injured when he fell 60 feet and hit his head during Jack's rescue. He was recovering at the same hospital and was in serious but stable condition.
Jack was in good condition, according to a hospital spokesman, and she was set to remain at UCI Medical Center over the weekend. Her parents, who had publicly pleaded for the hundreds of inexperienced hikers who volunteered for the search to let trained professionals conduct the work, were not speaking to media.
Jack was found after searchers heard her screaming for help on the edge of a nearly vertical slope less than a mile from where the pair had parked their car. She was shoeless, having trouble breathing and was clinging to a tiny rock outcropping surrounded by dense brush.
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," said sheriff's Deputy Jim Moss, a paramedic who was dropped to Jack by a helicopter that 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."
She had no memory of going hiking or of being with Cendoya, rescuers 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. "She wouldn't have made it much longer. She's really lucky."
Cendoya, at Mission Hospital, posted on his Facebook page late Thursday that he was "not in as much pain. He was in good condition, according to the hospital, which provided the image at right, and was expected to be released in a few days, a hospital spokeswoman said.
"I am so thankful god had Kyndall Kihapai Jack saved. It killed me she was out there still," Cendoya wrote. "To me this was a test from god i embraced everything. All the cuts pain hunger thirst. I didnt cry once i pushed on for jesus and i have finally learned to live without fear. Thank you all for keeping Kyndall Kihapai Jack and i in your prayers. We love you all and i. Cant wait to see her and give her a hug and tell her we did it."
The two, both inexperienced hikers, departed on what Jack told friends was an "adventure" – an easy dayhike along popular Holy Jim Trail. Instead, they became lost off-trail, separated.
The locations of their separated helicopter rescues were very close to each other, authorities said.
Cendoya was found less than 500 feet up a steep ridge off Trabuco Creek Road. Rescuers had to cut through brush to get to him.
The details of their ordeal – how or why they got off trail, and then became separated – are still uncertain.
"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," said Orange County Sheriff's Department Lt. Jason Park, 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."