Search for Calif. hikers fruitless; hope not lost

Associated Press
View photos
Family members and friends prepare to tow the vehicle of missing hikers Nicholas Cendoya, 19, and Kyndall Jack, 18, early Wednesday April 3, 2013 in Cleveland National Forest in Trabuco Hills in Southern California. The hikers were reported missing Sunday.(AP Photo/Kevin Warn)

RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA, Calif. (AP) — Rescuers working in sometimes dangerously rugged terrain combed Southern California's Cleveland National Forest for two lost hikers late Wednesday, but the third day of searching proved fruitless as darkness fell.

There was no evidence of foul play and authorities believe the teens are in the area, in part because a 911 call made before their mobile phone died was traced to a cell tower near the location, said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. John Muir.

"Their probability for survival is good," he said, adding that the nights have been mild and the days not too hot. "We're not stopping until we find them."

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, he said.

Several dozen people on the ground and three helicopters in the air looked for the pair Wednesday. The overnight search would be mostly the work of a single helicopter, sheriff's Lt. Jason Park said.

Nicholas Cendoya, 19, and Kyndall Jack, 18, were last heard from Sunday night when they made the 911 call. 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.

In the call, they said they were about a mile from their car, which was parked at a trailhead, but rescuers have expanded the search.

"When you're disoriented because you're out of breath and tired and you think you're one mile away, you could be potentially three or four miles away," Muir said. "There's a lot of ground to cover."

It was unclear whether the lost hikers carried water and 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.

Two search volunteers got lost themselves Wednesday, but a helicopter found them and airlifted them out, Park said. Two hikers unrelated to the search also had to be helped when at least one of them was injured, Park said.

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 Lt. Erin Guidice told the Los Angeles Times.

That area was chosen because of the nearby cellphone tower that picked up the 911 call, she said.

Four helicopters also dropped search-and-rescue teams in the forest all day Wednesday, Muir said.

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.