PASADENA — Early Monday night, as hail pelted the two drenched teen-agers huddling for warmth under a bush in the San Gabriel Mountains, Sam Bourounsouzian began losing hope.
"I seriously thought I was going to die," the young hiker recalled. "I was singing religious songs and asking for forgiveness."
On Monday afternoon, Bourounsouzian and Jon Rosier, 17-year-old friends from Pasadena High School, had decided, on a lark, to go hiking in the rain through Eaton Canyon, a wilderness area just north of Pasadena. The two knew the canyon "like the back of our hands" from years of previous hikes.
But torrential downpours and flash-flooding from a strong Pacific storm soon turned the usually benign canyon into a treacherous trap.
They arrived at 3:30 p.m. and waded across a creek, which rain had swollen from four to 10 feet wide. Seeing several other hikers in yellow slickers, the teen-agers said they did not give a thought to potential danger.
After hiking half a mile in increasingly heavy rain, the boys turned back. It was 4:30 p.m., and the sky was slowly darkening. When they arrived back at the creek, they realized they were in trouble.
"The river was flowing too fast and we just couldn't get across," Jon recalled. "We tried everything: throwing in rocks and logs to make a bridge, wading across holding on to each other."
By this time, the water was more than waist-deep, and the current was surging.
"It knocked our feet out from under us, and there were boulders in the water that bruised our legs," Sam said.
As night fell, the boys retreated and found shelter under a bush. Jon had a hooded Army coat, but Sam wore only a shirt and a light jacket. Neither had taken along anything to eat.
The boys, who had not told anyone they were going hiking, spent the night singing and fearing they would die of hypothermia, said Jon, who temporarily lost sensation in his toes. At times, they yelled for help.
They sucked on their drenched clothes to quench their thirsts and repeatedly wrung out their jackets to minimize the bone-chilling wetness.
Throughout the night, lightning struck the ground nearby and landslides thundered down as close as 50 feet from where they lay hugging each other for warmth.
At daybreak, the boys hiked up a ridge and down the next slope, where they became temporarily separated. Sam slipped in the mud and plunging into the creek, which carried him 75 feet--until he was able to grasp a tree branch that had become lodged against the riverbank.
It was then that the youths were spotted by a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department helicopter crew.
A hiker who had seen two figures disappear into Eaton Canyon shortly before the downpour hit on Monday had alerted authorities. And the deputies later found Sam's yellow Jeep parked nearby.
Sheriff's Sgt. Roger Kelley said the boys probably would still be missing if the hiker, whose name was not known, had not been worried enough to call.
The boys' parents had also reported them missing, but they had no idea where they had gone.
About 15 people from emergency search-and-rescue teams and two helicopters combed the region for several hours Monday night but gave up because of the adverse weather. The search was renewed Tuesday morning, and the boys were spotted at about 8 a.m.
"The situation was dangerous. The stream was moving rapidly. There were landslides and mudslides everywhere," Kelley said.
The sergeant added that the helicopter descended into a very narrow brush- and tree-lined canyon, where it was buffeted by light winds. Because of the precarious position, the helicopter could only touch down one of its skids, allowing a deputy to jump out and help the boys scramble aboard--scared, soaked, ravenous, but happy to be alive.
A paramedic who examined the two found only minor scrapes and bruises and sent them home to recuperate with hot soup and showers.
"I don't think I'll ever go up there in the rain again," Jon vowed Tuesday afternoon.
"We were just up there to have some fun. We didn't ever think we'd get stuck," added Sam, who said the ordeal has changed his outlook.
"I never appreciated life that much before. But surviving something like that really makes you appreciate life more."