Volunteers in Rescue Effort Rejoice After Locating Duo
Operating on less than four hours’ sleep, the three volunteers who rescued Cindy Moyneur and Ryan McIntosh on Sunday endured a 24-hour search in which they fought mountain gusts by crawling on all fours with 55-pound supply packs on their backs.
Part of a multi-agency rescue effort that included 60 people, Bill Hartley, 38, Pete Verhelig, 30, both of Monrovia, and Steve Millenbach, 38, of Sierra Madre joined the rescue effort Saturday after finishing a rescue of motorists trapped in San Gabriel Canyon.
On Mt. Baldy, they joined rescue teams that had been forced to stop searching because of winds up to 100 m.p.h.
“We hiked up all day to the summit of Mt. Baldy,” Hartley said. At sundown, the rescue team set up camp in a fairly protected area, at an altitude of 9,500 feet. Winds that brought temperatures down to minus 30 degrees kept them awake most of the night, he said. Despite the cold, Millenbach spent a half-hour lying outside on the ridge, looking for signs of life in the distance.
They arose at the first light Sunday morning. When winds died down to about 45 m.p.h., they fought their way across Baldy Summit, sometimes crawling on the rocks to maintain their stability and to keep moving.
Heading down on Dawson Ridge toward the area where a campfire was sighted the night before, they picked up human tracks. One print looked like a sneaker that fit the description of a shoe that Ryan was wearing.
They followed the prints about two-thirds of the way up Dawson Peak when they suddenly ran into the two lost hikers sitting in the woods, shivering and looking dazed.
“To find them alive was just amazing,” said Hartley, a physical therapist who participates in about 80 searches a year. “When you find them, you’re elated, but you know there are things you have to do right away.”
Disoriented and dirty, the pair had “obviously been out two nights in (bad) weather with no food and no water,” Hartley said.
Because their shivering indicated that the hikers were suffering from hypothermia, the rescuers placed them immediately in their own sleeping bags and heated up food and liquids to feed them. They took off their wet cotton clothes and put them in dry, wool clothes.
Through radio contact with a base command, they arranged for helicopter transport. Winds had died down enough for a small helicopter to land about a quarter-mile away. The hikers were able to walk with assistance. They were transported to another larger helicopter, which flew them to San Antonio Hospital in Upland.
“I strongly believe she and the young man did an incredible job of survival,” Hartley said.
The hikers had taken shelter in a hollowed out tree, put a foil-type emergency blanket over them and had packed rocks and their own backpacks into the branches of the tree to shelter themselves, and then had started a fire. Most important, rescuers said, they stayed put.
Hartley said Moyneur had extinguished her campfire on Saturday because she heard helicopters and thought rescue was imminent. “She had a good fire going,” he said. “Too bad she put it out.”
Hartley doubted that the pair, who had survived one snowy night, could have endured another two nights. “If there was more snow or more rain, they would have gotten hypothermic. The biggest danger to them was the cold.”
Hearing that the lost hikers had been found was a “real rush,” said Dick Sale of Eagle Rock, who coordinated rescue efforts from the command post. “It’s the heart in your throat, sometimes tears in your eyes. It’s great. It’s the payoff we get for what we do.”
Considering the weather conditions, he said, “anybody on this mountain in the last two days qualifies as a hero.”
Hiking Safety Tips
In places like the San Bernardino Mountains, a quick change in the weather can make a simple walk in the woods a matter of survival. Bill Stead, chief of the Mt. Baldy Fire Department, offers these tips to hikers:
* Be prepared to spend the night: Carry a pack that includes extra clothing, food, sunglasses, first-aid kit, flashlight, map, compass and knife.
* Take a wilderness survival class.
* Wear proper hiking clothes, including boots, windbreaker, wool shirt or sweater and stocking cap.
* Know where you are hiking: Plot your course beforehand and tell your destination to someone who is not hiking with you.
* Know what to expect from the weather.
* If you encounter bad weather, stop before dark, set up a camp and stay there. Try to create a signal that is visible from the air.