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Hiker Found on Mt. San Jacinto; 2nd Still Missing

Rescue: The 22-year-old woman is hungry but otherwise well, deputies say. But searchers give up their effort to find a man in a different case.

September 21, 2000|DEBORAH SULLIVAN BRENNAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

PALM SPRINGS — A woman who disappeared after separating from her boyfriend during a hike on Mt. San Jacinto on Sunday was found alive and well Wednesday by a team of rescue workers.

Jeannine Landrenaux, 22, of Palm Desert was discovered in Tahquitz Canyon, southeast of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, when a search helicopter spotted her from the air.

"She was just hungry and scratched up, but nothing serious at all," said Glenn Henderson, president of Riverside Mountain Rescue.

During a hike Sunday afternoon, Landrenaux split off from her boyfriend after the couple got into an argument, Riverside County Sheriff's Deputy Ray Verdugo said. Her boyfriend descended the tram alone, but reported her missing at noon Monday when it became apparent that she had not left the mountain.

Crews from Riverside and Sierra Madre began a search two hours later. On Tuesday, they spotted footprints in the canyon area. They returned to pick up the trail Wednesday, with help from a Blackhawk helicopter from the Los Alamitos Armed Forces Reserve Center.

After spotting the hiker from the air, rescue workers evacuated her to the tramway station. Once Landrenaux received a medical checkup and showed no serious injuries, she was reunited with her mother.

The search for Landrenaux began just hours after police called off a search for mountain hiker Joshua Best, a 30-year-old Palm Springs man who has been missing for 12 days.

Best, a Palm Springs hotel maintenance worker, headed for the tram station on Sept. 9 with his boss, Tiki Spa Hotel manager Paula Udell, but turned back when he saw it was crowded.

"We just decided that it wasn't the right day, that there were too many people going up," Udell said. "He liked being by himself."

Best dropped her off at the hotel and said he would rest, then return to work. But he failed to show up later that day, and did not join his mother to watch football that Sunday.

Udell described Best as quiet and reserved, but a responsible employee who has never had an unexplained absence in the year and a half that he has worked for her. Palm Springs police found his car at the base of the tram and began the search.

"We brought out the bloodhounds, and handlers were confident his trail led up the mountain and onto some trails," said Palm Springs Police Sgt. Patrick Williams. "We had 20 searchers there Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and the Sheriff's Department picked it up Friday, Saturday, Sunday."

More than 50 searchers tracked the mountain for Best during the weekend, following footprints and scents and rappelling 300 feet into each of the steep ravines on the north and east edges of the mountain. On Monday, after a final 2 1/2-hour exploration of a canyon southeast of the tram station, they suspended the effort.

Lost hikers have been known to survive a week in summer months, said Kevin Walker, an operations leader for Riverside Mountain Rescue.

This year to date, searchers have conducted 26 rescue missions in Riverside County, Verdugo said.

"We probably have four or five in the 40-year history of the team that we didn't find," said Walt Walker, vice president of the rescue group. "And all but one of them are suspicious."

Terry Best said her daughter visited Landrenaux's family to console them after her disappearance, and said she believes that her son will return. "He is sorely missed by many people," she said. "And we have not abandoned all hope."

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