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11 missing backpackers are found safe in Sierra

Nine teenagers and two adult guides turn up at Florence Lake.

June 26, 2008|Tami Abdollah | Times Staff Writer

Nine teenagers and two adults on an Outward Bound backpacking trip were found safe Wednesday afternoon, two days after searchers began looking for them in rugged terrain northwest of Kings Canyon National Park in Fresno County, authorities said.

The search began after another adult guide who had gone ahead to scout for the group told authorities that they had failed to meet up with him as planned.

The man already had searched for two days on his own before contacting Outward Bound officials with the group's only satellite phone, which he had taken with him, said Deputy Chris Curtice, a spokesman for the Fresno County Sheriff's Department.

The mystery of where they had gone ended when someone from the group called Outward Bound officials shortly before 3 p.m. Wednesday to say they were fine. The organization's executive director then notified Fresno County sheriff's officials, Curtice said.

They said "they were all OK, that they were not hungry, weren't in any danger and they were at Florence Lake at a small general store," Curtice said. The lake is a popular jumping-off point for many groups hiking into the Sierra wilderness, he said.

A sheriff's search and rescue helicopter was sent to the store and confirmed that everyone was "accounted for and everyone was all right," Curtice said.

About 35 searchers, including mountaineers, people on horseback and spotters from a helicopter, had canvassed 90 square miles at elevations of 9,000 to 10,000 feet searching for the group, which included the two experienced guides, both 30 years old, and the nine teenagers, ages 13 to 16. Florence Lake is about 10 miles outside of the search area, Curtice said.

The group had set out on a two-week hiking and climbing trip from Maxon Trailhead near the Courtright Reservoir area June 14, Curtice said.

Before calling from the general store, the group was last seen Sunday at Burnt Corral Meadow area. At the time, the hikers planned to climb Mt. Shinn, a few miles away.

The guide who later reported the group missing left the others to check on climbing conditions, planning to meet with the group later that day at Red Rock Basin. But when the guide returned from checking Mt. Shinn, the group was not at the basin.

They had planned to conclude the hike Friday. Officials said they had sufficient provisions to stay out until them. But they were not believed to have a satellite phone with them because the guide who separated from the group had taken it, Curtice said. They did have maps and compasses, he said.

"They had one satellite phone between all of them, and I guess the guy who went to check on the mountain took it with him, which probably actually makes some sense," Curtice said.

He said he did not know if the group had a second satellite phone or had used the general store's phone to call for help.

The teenagers were from across the country, Curtice said.

"They're making arrangements right now to figure out how they're going to transport everybody to where they need to go," he said.

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tami.abdollah@latimes.com

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