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2 Survive Snow, Freezing 2 Days on Mt. Baldy

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“I’m shocked that they found him alive,” said Barbara McIntosh, as she stroked her son’s forehead at San Antonio Hospital’s emergency room Sunday afternoon.

Her 11-year-old son, Ryan, and 37-year-old Cynthia Moyneur had become lost while hiking atop Mt. Baldy when they were caught in a sudden snowstorm. They were rescued in good condition Sunday after surviving two days in sub-freezing weather and chilling 100-m.p.h. winds.

Authorities said Ryan and his hiking companion, both from Orange County, suffered frostbite on their feet, but otherwise appeared healthy. Sheriff’s deputies said the injuries did not appear serious, but a medic at the scene declined to describe them as minor.

“Cindy saved my life. . . . She’s pretty cool,” Ryan’s mother quoted him as saying about Moyneur, who is the girlfriend of Ryan’s uncle.

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They had little survival gear, and Moyneur used matches to start a camp fire late Friday that helped search-and-rescue teams to pinpoint their location just short of the 10,000-foot summit.

Moyneur also kept her young companion’s spirits up by explaining the steps they needed to take in order to stay alive until searchers found them, authorities said.

But when she was safe in a hospital bed Sunday, Moyneur told her father: “Dad, at one point I didn’t know if I could make it.”

Ryan also was said to be suffering from exposure, and both were described as exhausted after spending most of their 43-hour ordeal pacing so they would not fall asleep and freeze in temperatures that fell to 13 degrees with a sub-zero wind-chill.

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They were descending the summit of Mt. Baldy when they were pinned down by a storm Friday night that quickly dropped eight inches of snow.

Authorities said they kept themselves alive by building a windbreak out of snow to shelter them from the high winds. They had also carried a thermal blanket on the hike that they used to protect themselves.

Search helicopters saw the fire in the darkness early Saturday, but high winds, rugged terrain and extreme weather prevented the nine teams of rescuers--made up of about 60 searchers--from reaching Ryan and Moyneur until Sunday. At times, searchers literally were reduced to a crawl because of the ferocious winds.

The hikers were finally rescued from the north slope of Mt. Baldy, just west of Dawson Peak.

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“God’s still in the miracle business,” San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Capt. John Futscher said after the rescue. “This morning the wind broke and (a) helicopter saw footprints in the snow.”

Members of the Sierra Madre search-and-rescue team that first reached the stranded hikers also had spent the previous night on the mountain.

Moyneur and Ryan had set out about 1 p.m. Friday to hike the two miles from the Mt. Baldy ski lift with her boyfriend, Chris Jordan of Yorba Linda, Jordan’s two daughters and another girl, who is a family friend. Moyneur and Jordan had made the hike the previous two years on the day after Thanksgiving.

But before reaching the top, the three girls became tired and returned to the ski lift with Jordan. Moyneur and Ryan pushed on toward the summit.

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After reaching the peak, Moyneur took a wrong turn on what she thought was the trail back to the ski lift.

“She originally thought that all trails down came to the same point,” Futscher said. When Moyneur realized the trail was not taking them in the right direction, she and Ryan sat down and made camp for the night, he said.

The fire burned into Saturday, but finally went out, and Moyneur’s remaining matches had become too damp to work, Futscher said.

On Saturday, Moyneur attempted to signal circling helicopters with a mirror and by waving her arms. But high winds prevented the aircraft from flying low enough to see them, authorities said.

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Officials credited Moyneur with knowing the right things to do, such as preserving her strength by setting up a camp and by using the windbreak to protect herself and Ryan from the extreme conditions.

Moyneur, a physical therapist, jogger and avid cyclist, was described as very knowledgeable about hypothermia, the loss of heat from the body. But she also was wearing only calf-length spandex pants and a thin jacket, authorities said. Ryan wore a jacket, jeans, T-shirt and sweat shirt.

Just moments before rescuers found the hikers Sunday about 11 a.m., sheriff’s deputies tried to paint an optimistic picture.

Wilson announced that a helicopter crew had seen footprints in the snow, but said it was not known if the tracks belonged to the missing hikers or if they had been left by any of the numerous recreational hikers who had trekked onto the slopes that day.

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Wilson had just left reporters when a buzz of excitement charged through the makeshift command post set up in the Mt. Baldy Fire Department. The word was that the hikers had been found and were apparently well.

Moments later, a search-and-rescue helicopter carrying the pair landed on a precipice overlooking a sheer drop into a mountain canyon.

Ryan was carried from the helicopter and placed on a stretcher, but Moyneur walked with help from a deputy to her stretcher. As she was secured to the stretcher for the flight to San Antonio Hospital, Moyneur’s father knelt over her head and clapped his hands in joy.

Later, Raymond Moyneur said his daughter looked at him and said in the nonchalant way she always has: “Hi, dad.”

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