15 missing hikers rescued by helicopter recall last-ditch call for help

Fifteen hikers missing in Eaton Canyon since Sunday night are found, rescued and reunited with their families

Fifteen hikers who were rescued Monday after being lost overnight in the San Gabriel Mountains recalled being in soaked clothes as the sun set, prompting an electronic Hail Mary in the form of a "Help" text message that set off the search effort.

Lost with only a single bar of cellular reception on one of their phones, the text message was sent to one of their relatives at 8 p.m., then a 911 call was made to a local sheriff’s station at 9:40 p.m.

But help would not find them Sunday night. The fog was too thick for air support and their location too remote to be seen from a trail in the darkness. The Huntington Park church group told reporters after the rescue that they made a fire and prepared to stay on the mountain overnight.

On Monday morning, after the fog had burned off and helicopters could aid in the search, the group was airlifted off a dusty hillside, one by one. At least two of the group were treated for hypothermia due to the prolonged exposure to the elements in wet clothes. Another two suffered minor leg injuries during the rescue.

In the long history of Eaton Canyon rescues, the scene on Monday was unusual for its size and circumstance, officials said.

The group – four juveniles and 11 adults – were from a Huntington Park church and were trying to scale perilous Eaton Canyon from Henninger Flat when they became lost.

Family members were out near the canyon all night, said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Johnie Jones. Two of them were found on a trail before midnight searching in vain for their loved ones.

Three search and rescue teams had combed the Eaton Canyon area on foot overnight to no avail.

It was a scene of relief Monday as the hikers were reunited with worried family members.

“They’re relaxed now, as you can imagine,” Jones said. “They’re all very happy.”

Jones credited the group’s decision to stay in one place with aiding in the rescue.

“If you keep moving, it’s almost impossible to find you,” he said.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

2:26 p.m.: This post was updated to include more details about how the search effort unfolded.

11:34 a.m.: This post was updated to include information about the rescue and to reflect that hikers were reunited with their families.

9:34 a.m.: This post was updated to reflect that the hikers had been spotted and rescue operations were underway.

9:15 a.m.: This post was updated with new information on the search effort and the sequence of events.

8:21 a.m.: This post was updated with new details about the daytime search effort.

6:36 a.m.: This post was updated with a revised estimate for how many hikers may be missing and with more details about how the search effort started.

This story was originally published at 6:28 a.m.

 

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