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Missing hiker found: Rescuer promised parents crews would find her

April 05, 2013|By Kate Mather, Rick Rojas and Irfan Khan

Mike Leum, the reserve chief of search and rescue for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, has a 20-year-old daughter. So when he met with the parents of the college student who got lost while hiking in Orange County's back country, he had a promise for them.

“I looked them both in the eyes and told them definitely that we were going to find her,” Leum said. “I’m glad I was able to come through on that.”

On Thursday, that college student’s voice secured her rescue. Kyndall Jack's screams from a cliff in the Trabuco Canyon area caught the attention of a search team and led to a protracted and dramatic rescue.

"I yelled out to her to see if she could see me," Leum said. "She said she could see me, but I could not see her."

Leum shouted at her to wave her arms. She could only wave one, she told him. The other was hurt.

Leum finally spotted Jack, on a rocky hillside. He kept his eyes on her as he directed a helicopter to hoist her away.

"She was severely dehydrated," he said. "She was confused -- she didn't really know much of anything."

Jack, an 18-year-old college student from Costa Mesa, was airlifted to UC Irvine Medical Center on Thursday, where a spokesman said she was undergoing tests and being treated for dehydration and hypothermia.

Her family "would like to thank everyone for their help and to thank them for keeping her in their thoughts and prayers," a hospital spokesperson said.

Her friend and hiking companion, Nicolas Cendoya, 19, rescued Wednesday night, remained hospitalized Thursday with dehydration and superficial cuts.

The massive search operation, which began Sunday night, grew to include 16 state and local agencies. Jack and Cendoya, friends from Costa Mesa High School, set out for their hike that day, but apparently strayed from the path and quickly became lost in the rugged terrain and thorny chaparral. 

After authorities spent four days searching by helicopter, on foot, on horseback and with bloodhounds, hikers spotted Cendoya just before 8 p.m. Wednesday, wedged in a crevice high above a creek bed, surrounded by brush.

Just before noon the next day, a team of sheriff's deputies from Los Angeles and Ventura counties heard a woman's screams. They summoned additional rescuers and a helicopter, which eventually located Jack under a canopy of brush high on a hillside.


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Times staff writers Harriet Ryan in Los Angeles and Jill Cowan and Anh Do in Orange County contributed to this report.

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