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Hiker recalls her harrowing time lost in O.C. backcountry

'I honestly didn't know I was missing,' 18-year-old Kyndall Jack tells reporters outside UC Irvine Medical Center. 'I just thought I was in a big dream.'

April 08, 2013|By Rick Rojas, Los Angeles Times
  • Rescued hiker Kyndall Jack, 18, is wheeled out to address the media in front of UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange. Her hiking companion, Nicolas Cendoya, 19, was found the day before she was.
Rescued hiker Kyndall Jack, 18, is wheeled out to address the media in front… (Rick Loomis, Los Angeles…)

Days after her dramatic rescue from a brush-covered ledge, the 18-year-old hiker who was missing for four days said she has only fleeting memories of her time lost in the south Orange County hills recalling only hallucinations, fending off animals and crying when she and her parents reunited.

"I honestly didn't even know I was missing," Kyndall Jack told reporters Monday outside UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange. "I didn't know I was gone. I didn't know anything was going on. I just thought I was in a big dream."

The search for Jack and her friend, Nicolas Cendoya, began March 31 — Easter Sunday — in the Holy Jim Canyon area of Cleveland National Forest, with scores of authorized searchers and an army of volunteers scouring the scrubby terrain.

Photos: Rescued hiker released from hospital

Cendoya, 19, was found first, on Wednesday night. Jack was rescued the next day.

On Monday, she was wheeled out of the hospital, saying she was "still in a lot of pain, but it's getting better."

She had injured her hand, she said, holding it up to demonstrate its limited mobility. Her nails were worn down and fingers bloodied, but she said doctors told her that her hand should function normally again. And she lifted the left leg of her sweatpants to reveal scrapes, cuts and bruises. When she was rescued, she was severely dehydrated and had dirt and rocks in her mouth that she had tried to eat while disoriented.

She was airlifted to the hospital after rescuers worked for more than an hour to pluck her off a steep incline. One of the rescuers fell about 60 feet, suffering a serious head injury.

The Costa Mesa hikers, who attended high school together, set out in the hope of climbing as high as they could. "We wanted to touch the clouds," Jack said. They quickly strayed from the trail, saying "we're just going to scale the mountain here," she recalled.

The pair, she said, had brought three small water bottles with them. She had a lighter, cellphone, glasses and keys in her backpack.

As darkness set in, the pair realized they were lost and called 911. After Jack's cellphone died, she said she began having panic attacks and vomited. By the first evening, she said, the two of them had begun hallucinating, presumably because of dehydration.

She said she got scared when Cendoya went in and out of consciousness. They told each other not to close their eyes.

From that point, Jack's only memories were of fighting off an animal (she could not say what kind), trying to use her lighter to "light the sky" and signal for help, and finding her way to the rocky area where she stayed until she was found.

At one point, she said, she believed she was being attacked by a python. She said she had also hallucinated that twigs were straws that she could suck for water.

Jack said she did not know at what point she became separated from Cendoya, or how long she had been in the spot where she was rescued. She said she spoke to Cendoya after the rescue, hoping to piece together their recollections, but the effort was futile.

Jack said the experience had prompted some reflection, that it "definitely changed the way I look at things."

Jack said she was grateful for those who rescued her and hoped to thank them in person. They offered the help that she had feared would not come, she said.

"I definitely gave up hope," Jack said. "There were definitely some times I didn't think I was going to make it."

rick.rojas@latimes.com

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