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Rescued hiker recounts his fear, hallucinations

'If we don't get out of here, we are going to die,' he says he told his companion the first night.' At one point, he thought he was 'in the afterlife.'

April 07, 2013|By Kurt Streeter, Los Angeles Times
  • Nicolas Cendoya says he wasn't sure he could have survived another night in the Santa Ana Mountains.
Nicolas Cendoya says he wasn't sure he could have survived another… (Associated Press )

Nicolas Cendoya, the 19-year-old college student rescued last week after getting lost while hiking with a friend in the Trabuco Canyon area of Orange County, on Sunday offered his first detailed public account of the ordeal that nearly cost the two their lives.

Cendoya said he and Kyndall Jack, 18, realized they were in trouble as night began falling during a lengthy and poorly planned Easter Sunday hike in the Santa Ana Mountains. By then their water bottle was nearly empty, and he was shirtless and drenched in sweat from an arduous climb.

In the darkness, they couldn't find their way out of an area surrounded by cliffs and sharp brush. They called an emergency operator to say they were lost, but the cellphone battery died after the call. After waiting a while for a helicopter, Cendoya said, he looked at Jack and told her, "It is pitch black.... If we don't get out of here, we are going to die."

Cendoya described grabbing Jack and trying to carry her through the brush in a desperate bid to get back to a road where his car was parked. Somehow, though, he fell and hit his head.

"I was just out, unconscious," Cendoya said, speaking briefly to reporters after being discharged Sunday from Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo. "I can't even tell you when I woke up.... [Afterward] I was in lucid dreams, lucid hallucinations, every single day." He recalled that after the fall, Jack begged him to keep his eyes open, and he speculated she may have thought he had died. He wasn't sure how the two became separated.

Asked how he managed to survive, Cendoya remembered eating plants and leaning on his faith and his memories of a friend who had recently died. He said his hallucinations were vivid. He thought he was "in the afterlife" and grew so convinced he was being stalked by predators that he grabbed a sharp stick for defense. He thought he saw Jack get rescued, though, it turned out, he had no idea where she was, and she wasn't rescued until the day after he was found.

Cendoya was rescued Wednesday night. He was so weak by then, he said, that he wasn't sure he could have survived another night.

"When the firefighters came up, I didn't believe it," he said, adding that his hallucinations had him convinced that the firefighters were yet "another fake."

After being treated at the hospital for dehydration, cuts and head and neck trauma, Cendoya said that he can't wait to see Jack again and that the two have corresponded via social media since her rescue. Jack remains at UC Irvine Medical Center, where she is also being treated for dehydration and injuries.

Cendoya also thanked the scores of people involved in the rescue operation, especially the reserve sheriff's deputy who suffered a severe head injury after plunging down a hillside while trying to reach Jack.

kurt.streeter@latimes.com

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